Syfy, Fridays, 9/10 PM
Written by Ann Hamilton
Directed by Rachel Talalay
“I’ve seen this movie. It doesn’t end well.” — Audrey
I am so tired of Eric Balfour’s chin. I know he can’t help it, but when the man is onscreen, that’s all I can see, abs or no abs. It’s like Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose. I could probably live with it, if the character he plays, Duke, was something more than a walking plot obstacle. It’s clear that his role is to be the roguish Bad Boy, the third side of a romantic triangle between himself, Audrey and Nate. Words cannot tell how tired I am of that plot device. Warehouse 13 has already shown me how much snap and crackle there can be between a man and woman, with no romantic overtones. Why can’t the producers of Haven pick up on this innovative idea—that maybe we don’t need soap opera to bring us back to our screens week after week?
It seems these writers are incapable of writing science fiction as science fiction; they are painting it over as romantic dramedy and hoping we won’t notice the cracks. I notice. I especially notice when, for the fourth week in a row, we get exactly the same plot and pretty much the same solution. Once again, Haven is threatened by someone with magical powers, who is using these powers for evil, and who is unaware of the powers or that he/she is responsible. At this point, the show has become the anti-Heroes, full of otherwise normal people who reveal themselves to be unwitting avatars of comic book powers. This show doesn’t even have a good villain: we could use a Sylar in this mix.
While strolling through a farmer’s market dominated by organic produce, Audrey sees several fruit and vegetable stands reduced to a gelatinous, rotten mess within seconds. People scream, vomit, run around like crazy persons. Nathan and Audrey track the problem to its epicenter: an upscale restaurant on the verge of opening. Duke is selling mysterious boxes to the temperamental chef (Sebastian Piggot, The Listener), who is a childhood buddy of his and Nathan’s. On opening night, the chef argues with his brother (part owner of the restaurant) over his ties to a fast-food millionaire with designs on the restaurant. Everything on the plates turns to goo. Inevitably, the team discovers that someone in this story has Strange Paranormal Powers and is using them, unwittingly, to harm a rival.
Yawn. I somehow find this plot less than compelling. There is not much of a threat here. Even when the chef dies, it turns out he was the victim of his own allergies, not food poisoning. The townsfolk are in no danger as long as they don’t eat at the newly opened restaurant. Certainly our heroes are in no danger. There is little sense of urgency. It came down to a game of guessing which of the characters would turn out to be the “villain”. Although it’s hard to work up any feeling against a villain who is unaware of his or her own actions.
“I can’t have them thinking Haven’s full of freaks.” — Nathan
The problem with this show is that it has forgotten a seminal truth about science fiction: viewers are interested not in the who or the why, but in thehow. How is the villain making food rot? How did last week’s villain manage to sing people into sanity? How does that work? How do “the Troubles” factor into all of this? I’m thinking that maybe the town itself acts like an amplifier to people’s latent abilities, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t Audrey and Nathan start figuring that out by now? We’re four episodes in, and so far these scripts could have been written with a Xerox machine. I don’t need Audrey and Nathan running around doing police forensics; I can watch a police forensics show anywhere, anytime. What I want is a science fiction version of that, with the characters investigating the how of the mystery. This is why The X-Files succeeded where most of its knock-offs fail: we need a Scully giving us a rational explanation, a Mulder giving us an irrational one, and a team which is focused on the weird stuff, not the relationships among the characters.
All is not completely lost. Emily Rose’s Audrey Parker is still cute without being perky, with a dash of sardonic humor which offsets what otherwise might become a bimbo persona. Lucas Bryant is actually showing some emotion now, which might be the writers trying to show us how Nathan is trying to reach past his debilitating numbness to forge a relationship with Audrey. That’s nice. I am okay with relationship building. But it is and will always be a secondary consideration in a show dealing with the supernatural, the outlandish, the magical. Nobody cares about Arthur and Guinevere when Merlin is in the room. That is to say, the show needs to focus more on the magical/supernatural/science fictional elements of the show. There is time for it to do so.
Good points include the town of Haven itself. The producers have cast a picture-postcard town as the centerpiece, like the recently failed Eastwick. But wisely, they have countered the cutesy-pie village look by having it continuously overshadowed by gray, brooding skies. That sense of looming menace goes a long way to offset the sense that much of this show is playing out in Disneyland. Some of the secondary characters are wonderful, particularly the editors of the town’s newspaper, Dave and Vince Teague (John Dunsworth and Richard Donat). They remind me of the old Muppets characters, Statler and Waldorf—heckling from the wings, commenting on the passing parade of crazies. The scene where they assist Audrey in picking out a dinner dress was very funny, with their dry comments revealing that they know considerably more about fashion than Audrey herself. Secondary characters like this can add weight and solidity to a cast, and I hope to see them on a regular basis.
Haven pulled in 2.125 million viewers, for a 0.6 rating in the 18-49 demographic, up from last week’s 0.5. This is a pretty solid performance for the Syfy network, especially on a Friday night. In fact, this is a much better showing than the fall-spring performance of the usual Syfy show in this slot, Stargate Universe. That tells me that maybe the problem with SGUwasn’t the timeslot, but the writing. It will be interesting to see if this timeslot fares as well when SGU returns in the fall. Until then, I’m enjoyingHaven, with some caveats. It has room for improvement, and the means to do it.