Fox drew from their “Glee” playbook and launched this series two months before it’s scheduled to air regularly, in order to build word of mouth. Its pedigree is solid, even celebrated. Kiefer Sutherland starred in probably the most popular hour-long Fox series to date, 24, and Tim Kring created Heroes, which was awesome for a season and sucked hard for three more. He also wrote Teen Wolf Too, which he probably tries to work into every conversation he has, with anyone.
“What do you mean it’s reservation only? I wrote Teen Wolf Too, Motherfucker!”
From what I can tell from the pilot, it suffers from a lot of the same problems as Alcatraz, in that network writers and creators seem to confuse grab-bagging from other sources with creativity. I know it’s a popular rather than artistic format, and high-concept always implies pre-cursors, but when the math (pardon the pun) squares so easily:
Babel(Numb3rs + 24 x What’s Eating Gilbert Grape)
M. Night Shyamalan
Well, you get the idea. You’ve got a mute kid obsessed with numbers and averse to physical contact, his sad-sack dad, the most dedicated (and prompt) children’s services agent in all of New York City (seriously? This is the kid most in need of your precious time? In all of Manhattan? He lives in blissful comfort with a doting dad and a near-genius IQ. So he climbs cell-phone towers and doesn’t talk—who gives a shit?), and what I imagine will be a revolving door of guest spots from hard-working, recognizable television actors (Titus Welliver, of Lost fame, in the pilot). Also, Danny Glover is saddled with the crazy-but-correct-about-everything recluse-professor role, which is laughably bad casting, honestly. Danny Glover is a lot of things, but he’s never struck me as the hermit type.
It looks like the episodes will follow the Babel formula, where the writers will introduce, say, twenty or twenty-five separate plot threads and then connect them together, solidly or tenuously, depending upon how hard they feel like working on the teleplay. The pilot concerns incidents in Ireland, Japan, NYC, London, and Kuwait. It’s all designed to show how connected we all are, and the conceit is that only mute kids who climb cell towers are able to see and even manipulate the connections.
I did think the ending was “touching,” though, if only because I’ve always felt like Kiefer Sutherland is a marvelous actor, better than his dad, and constantly capable of wrestling emotional truth from the most preposterous contrivances (he had a lot of practice in 24…). As an aside, do you find it as odd as I do that Kiefer Sutherland is famous for playing desperate, barking men with the world on their shoulders while his father’s claim to fame lies in creating characters that seem hard-pressed to summon where they are, geographically, from one moment to the next? Seriously, I sometimes wonder if he knows he’s on camera.
There’s lots of talk about the Fibonacci numbers and their relation to the natural world, a glancing nod towards complexity theory and fractals, etc. It exists to make the show sound smart, but here’s the problem with these kinds of plots, whether it’s Signs, Babel, or Heroes: IN FICTION, EVERYTHING HAS TO HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
To point to the essential connectivity of human lives is one thing, but to build plots around it is a cheat. Connecting the loose strands of seeming coincidence into the bow of a well-plotted story is what fiction does. To do so and then use the contrivance inherent n why we like stories in the first place as a way of pointing out something true about life is a lie. It’s not quite playing tennis without a net, to borrow Robert Frost’s dictum about free-verse poetry, but playing without a net, balls, or racquets and then pretending you won Wimbledon. There’s nothing profound in making connections between characters in a narrative; it’s just good craft. Constantly pointing it out to the viewer is only going to backfire and show off all the forced coincidences and far-fetched connections.
So, to put a bow on it, the conceit that the human race is connected in ways we can scarce comprehend, and that that connectivity is integral to our understanding of the world is a subject ripe for fictional analysis, and as the novels of Georges Perec, the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski, or the recent movie Incendies demonstrate, can provide a substantial intellectual and emotional wallop. But basing an entire series around such an overt lynchpin could, I fear, lead to repetition and guffaws of disbelief.