Syfy Channel, Tuesdays, 9/7 c
Story by Brent Mote and Jane Espenson
Teleplay by Brent Mote and Jane Espenson and David Simkins
Directed by Jace Alexander
Last year network cable studio TNT gave us the third installment in their “Librarian” movies series, The Curse of the Judas Chalice. The premise of that science fiction/fantasy franchise is that librarian Flynn Carsen (Noah Wylie, ER) is sent on worldwide errands by his bosses, Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, to retrieve ancient artifacts with otherworldly powers that threaten to disrupt our consensual reality. It’s a cute, cheesy, perfect-summer-film series, with a campy vibe, handsome hero, and family-friendly plots. I was hoping it would get made into a series. Apparently, it has–but not by TNT. Rather, the SyFy Channel (which last week was the SciFi Channel, for those of you off exploring the moons of Titan) has debuted a new hour-long series called Warehouse 13 that pretty much expands the basic premise of the Librarian movies.
Looking very much like a cross between the Librarian movies and The X-Files, it shares the former’s tongue-in-cheek attitude with the slightly spooky edge of the latter. This should be fun. Modeled on The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully, Secret Service agents Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock,Bones, Moonlight) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly, Supernatural) are the typical opposites-attract duo: he’s all intuition and situational-awareness, she’s a by-the-numbers perfectionist whose attention to detail approaches obsessive-compulsive disorder. He’s rock and roll, she’s Mozart. Same mental configurations as Mulder (the visionary evangelist) and Scully (the rationalist), but without the undercurrent of sexual tension. Together, they give off a real partnership vibe from the very beginning, despite their comic bickering.
We meet Bering and Lattimer as they supervise the security arrangements for a Presidential visit to an art museum. One of the exhibits, an Aztec head (which is now in my Top Five Cheeseball MacGuffins), comes to life and infects a lab tech with Crazed Terrorist Syndrome. Said lab tech shows up in the art gallery with a knife and attacks the President moments after Lattimer has absconded with the suspiciously bleeding Aztec head. I loved it that just when things started to go wrong, Bering had the sense to remove her high heels; that makes her subsequent takedown of the assassin while wearing a little black dress more convincing. Their reward for these heroics is an assignment to Warehouse 13, located in the middle of Nowhere, South Dakota. Their new boss is Artie Nielsen, played with disheveled panache by veteran character actor Saul Rubinek (Eureka). He introduces them to the Warehouse, which like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, is larger on the inside than it is on the outside.
By now, the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a government functionary pushing a crated-up Ark of the Covenant down a long corridor in a huge warehouse, is iconic. So much so, that we don’t even need comment or explanation when Artie switches on the lights and the Warehouse seems to be several miles long. The X-Files spoofed that scene in its pilot episode, too. To me, the intriguing question about that scene was always “What’s in the rest of those boxes?” The basic premise ofWarehouse 13 seems to be to answer that question. I hope the premise doesn’t turn out to be merely the tracking down and crating up of more artifacts, because the real fun will be to see them actually in use. We get some tantalizing hints when Artie conducts a tour. My favorite was seeing vintage typewriter keys used for a computer keyboard (where can I get one of those?), along with the steampunk “car” they use as a warehouse runabout. According to Artie, it was built for Henry Ford as a proof of concept electric car by Thomas Edison but rejected because it was so well built that Ford would not be able to sell replacement cars. What a tidy bit that is–in one stroke we get references to historical figures, a green/environmental statement, a hint of conspiracy and a poke at corporate greed. This is very good writing.
Through what appears to be a combination of high-tech hackery and sheer intuition, Artie divines that something vaguely evil is happening with a young college student in Iowa. He sends his new protégés after it, but first warns them against non-specific yet frightening possibilities. For example, previous partners of his died, went mad or disappeared–that’s bad enough, but what are we to make of the ones whose “clocks stopped”, and will regret it in about a hundred years? I want to see that story! Then there’s Houdini’s wallet, which allegedly gives access to the dead (highly ironic, in view of Houdini’s hobby of busting fake mediums). There is a satchel which turns itself into a kettle which grants wishes; unlike Aladdin’s lamp, however, it has its own unique interpretations of what “granting a wish” consists of, which is how Agent Bering suddenly acquires a pet ferret. And what’s with that football Artie and Pete keep tossing around, with its incredible hang time?
Of course, a TV pilot is all about introducing the characters. Pete and Myka come across as the standard bickering couple who you know will bond in the midst of danger and intrigue. McClintock’s Lattimer reacts to his re-assignment to the boonies with childlike, wide-eyed wonder. He’s ready to jump right in, especially if someone offers him cookies. He’s a simple soul, untroubled by doubt–but a conversation with Artie hints that he may have a past clouded by alcoholism. Myka, the ambitious career-builder, is furious at what she sees as a mistaken assignment; “I’m too valuable for this.” Seething, she spends most of the pilot trying to get out of South Dakota and back to DC. However, there are hints that a tragic past haunts her, as well as allegations of misconduct or dereliction, which would explain her holier-than-thou devotion to doing it by the book. On top of the primary pair and Artie, CCH Pounder’s mysterious Mrs. Frederic comes across as a version of The X-Files’ Deep Throat–a puppet master who can pull strings inside the Secret Service, whose agenda we may never know.
Writer/creator Jane Espenson cut her teeth on dialogue-rich shows likeBattlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so it’s no surprise that the banter between our heroes sparkles. Fellow writer/creator Brent Mote brings solid credentials from earlier SF films like the overlooked Deep Red, and other familiar names from genre TV are attached: producer Drew Greenberg (Buffy, Smallville), producer Suzanne Lauer (Night Stalker), and Mark Winemaker (Blood Ties). With credentials like these, I have high expectations. Canadian production will hopefully keep the costs low enough to let the show continue to offer top-notch CGI, while not recycling the same actors through the show ad nauseum (one Canadian X-Files actor I recall was on the show in five different roles). And apparently the word is out: the show’s debut two-hour episode garnered 3.5 million viewers on its first airing, making it the number one cable show of the night. It would seem that there is still an appetite out there for Mulder and Scully type detectives, tracking down objects of wonder. Suits me–send in the clones.