Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: The Event "I Haven't Told You Everything"

Non Spoiler Review:
The much-hyped Event promised to fill the genre vacuum of Lost and provide a mix of West Wing intrigue and X-file level conspiracy. The audience is thrown immediately into the action with an apparent airliner hijacking, and just as quickly are bounced back and forth through a series of flashbacks that attempt to fill in the blanks of what brought the various characters to their current crisis. A lot of flashbacks. 

On the plus side, The Event has a good cast—Blair Underwood as the president, and Zelijko Ivanek (the late magistrar from True Blood), as Blake Sterling, a high level advisor of some kind (it's telling that I'm not exactly sure what his position is after watching the show). Laura Innes plays Sophia, a mysterious detainee at the government Inostranka facility in Alaska. And Agent Lee is introduced attempting to stop the plane from taking off.

Compared to these heavy-hitters, less interesting is Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), who is off on a cruise with his girlfriend Leila (Sarah Roemer). They find themselves embroiled in a grand conspiracy that throws their lives into turmoil. We know this right off the bat as Sean is in the midst of hijacking the airliner at the beginning of the episode. But the love story of these two characters is the least compelling element while receiving the most airtime. We have to suffer through their dinner, their snorkeling, their hiking, and Sean's incessantly delayed marriage proposal, when we really want to be seeing what's going on at the secret Alaska facility or the details of President Martinez's press conference.

The pilot is interesting enough to show a lot of promise, tossing out a lot of plot threads. However the manner of delivery was difficult to endure. Lost pioneered the flashbacks, while Battlestar Galactica became a master of the 48 hours earlier conceit. We get both of these in spades, as the storytelling shifts back and forth from the present to days, weeks and months in the past, and then forcing us to review the previous 30 seconds we just watched after each commercial break. I love non-linear storytelling, but this was overkill.

The episode goes out with a bang, with a healthy dose of sci-fi promising some hints of this event to come. I think the initial conclusions as to what the event is may be too obvious, as the show will undoubtedly be filled with twists and turns along the way. It grabbed my interest, so I'll keep watching, as long as the writers can spend more time in the present action than the flashbacks, and we get a focus on characters whom we actually want to watch. 

Spoilers Now!
The hijacking was enough to snare the audience's interest, but the subsequent flashbacks to fill in the blanks only made this riveting scene disjointed and stretched out to the point I wanted it to move on. Ultimately the pilot really only covers a half hour or so of actual time, which is a real problem.

We get Sean and Leila receiving the bulk of attention, and their love story unfolds too slowly on their cruise—so much less compelling when we have scenes with President Martinez and Blake Sterling talking about the secret Alaskan facility, and the mysterious Sophia sitting in detention with all her secrets. Thirteen months earlier, the president learned of her and now they are preparing to hold a joint press conference.

We get Michael Buchanan (Leila's father), possibly killed, brainwashed or replaced with a double as the pilot of the plane that Sean hijacks. How did Sean find out he was on the plane and the plan to crash it? And how did Sean become such a good action hero, when he's having a major panic attack with Leila's disappearance earlier on the cruise and seems awkward in pretty much every situation?  

The real excitement comes when we see the airliner careening towards the President's press conference in Miami. We're very much used to this Post 9/11 zeitgeist, so the shot of the plane bearing down on the crowd is pretty chilling.

Equally curious is the crazy weather that seems to spring up as it approaches, and the mad rush of the president and his entourage to escape. Then, a crazy wormhole/teleportation thing opens up and swallows the plane—the most effective moment in the episode.

There has been a concerted effort to compare the show to Lost, so similarities to Lost's pilot are worth discussing. Both were action-oriented, frenetic episodes. Lost had it's flashbacks, but the plot was contained to the plane crash and the immediate action on the island. In contrast, The Event uses flashbacks to bring the audience up to speed on a variety of disparate characters, locations and plotlines that have yet to converge, and not even in the same timeline. So here it doesn't really work that well at all. Rather than riding the roller coaster of the action, the audience struggles to keep up and gets pulled out of the scene the moment it gets interesting.

There is a lot of ground to cover to bring us up to speed to where we find the characters at the beginning, and so a longer 90 minutes or two hour pilot might have been more effective to give all the players their appropriate due. We'll see next week if we're still struggling to catch up just to the airline hijacking.

The Event may have overhyped itself by putting all its focus on this future question mark, which risks being a big letdown if it doesn't really come up with something both original and innovative to surprise the audience. Initial thoughts point to an alien invasion or contact of some kind, but I think that might be too obvious a conclusion.

I'm going to stick with it if it continues with the surprises and see where the story goes. 

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