Sound and Fury, Signifying . . .The Event?
- Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Serial storytelling in primetime is a double-edged sword. An ongoing story with cliff-hanger endings, multiple plotlines, and a large ensemble cast can, if well done, draw in loyal audiences for years. Take Lost for example, the program was intriguing and multilayered in its epic island adventure of diverse characters seeking redemption while fighting each other and their own inner demons all the while running from that pesky smoke monster. Other programs sought to emulate its mysterious narrative with strange invasions, sci-fi phenomenon and a central mystery. Fringe succeeded but last year's Flash Forward, which desperately wanted to be in Lost's league, fizzled out. The quest to match the breathless storytelling and rich flashback-laden narrative is irresistible to television creators seeking to strike a golden chord with the audience.
This year's contestant is The Event, a portentously titled adventure drama that resembles Lost superficially—like it's predecessors famous two-hour pilot, the first hours of The Event involve a jetliner in a catastrophic incident caused by mysterious forces, and a large cast in a complex plot structure. The apparent protagonist of the series is Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) a true everyman who we first see pulling a gun on an airliner about to take off from the Miami airport. The pilot episode follows numerous characters, including the righteous U.S. president Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood) and jumps around in time from days before to months earlier. The next episode flashes back to the 1940s. Some of this is intriguing but it's mostly a narrative trick to keep us wondering how the characters got into a sticky predicament before backing up to give us the prior causative events.
Sean's girlfriend, Leila, is abducted while the couple is on a vacation cruise and somehow, he learns enough to get on the jet and try to stop it from taking off. When he fails, the jet heads for its destination, the president's planned announcement that he's learned the existence of over 90 prisoners secretly held at an Alaskan facility. Discovered at the end of WWII, they appear human but tests indicate that they are biologically different from us and also that they have barely aged since the time of their discovery. Are they aliens? Their leader, Sophia (Laura Innes) isn't talking.
President Martinez wants to come clean and have a transparent administration, but that pesky jetliner is piloted by Leila's father, who was coerced to attack the president's party to protect his daughter's life. Just as it appears that the President and his entourage are doomed, a light appears in front of the plane and swallows it up. Somebody intervened--was it Leila's people? The jet is transported to the Arizona desert and the passengers are attacked by black helicopters and Sean runs away and is captured and . . . are you hooked yet?
That's just the first two hours and I haven't even gotten to the fact that one of the government agents, Simon, is actually one of Sophia's people, now deeply undercover, as are apparently others of these folk. It soon becomes evident that there are one or two other factions at work plotting against humanity or to thwart the other party. Frankly, by the third episode, I was confused. The story moves so fast that there isn't time to process it and a lot of information is being withheld so we have to wonder, how did Sean know to get on the plane and why can't Sophia tell the President anything despite the obvious national security risk? Why do the bad guys, whoever they are, want Leila kept alive? Most of all, why should we care about any of this?
Lost was accused of being frustratingly coy and when an answer came, it was replaced by another question. Yet viewers stuck with the series year after year because the first season took its time introducing us to each of the large cast's members and getting us to care about them as individuals. A good story is like a stool with three legs: plot, character and theme and when you're short of one or two of these, the story topples over or at least feels out of balance. We know next to nothing about the main character Sean, except that he's one slippery dude, crashing from one near death experience to another each week. The dominance of plot over character with events transpiring with little exposition is even more frustrating because we don't have much rooting interest in these busy characters.
This type of storytelling, with multiple mysteries, is supposed to raise intriguing questions in the audience's minds: what forces are behind these malevolent actions? And what exactly is the Event anyway? Was it the disappearing jetliner or is there something else on the horizon? Will it arrive near the end of the series or sooner?
Because inquiring minds want to know and can't help forming theories, I'll offer one: The near-human prisoners are from earth's far future where they've evolved a slightly different physiology. They've traveled back in time and cannot tell anyone in our time anything about the future or why they are there because that would irrevocably change history with catastrophic results that would make Doc Brown's white hair stand on end. Sophia and company believe anything that happens, no matter how bad, would be better than destroying the space-time continuum. Others have hypothesized this as well, but whether this is true or not, it doesn't matter if the series doesn't slow down and develop characters who are more than thin archetypes. A mid-course correction might be just the event this series really needs.
The Event: NBC Mondays 9:00pm
**This Review First Published October 19, 2010
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