Possibly the most well publicized new television show debuting this fall, NBC’s The Event is a whirlwind mix of action and mystery that wraps its first hour in a sudden and unexpected “What the fuck?!” moment. Holding all its cards close to its chest, the action packed first hour sets up a number of plot points that will hopefully become less fuzzy down the road without really providing any information.
Mild plot related spoilers follow, but I don’t give away the hook.
To be honest, the show didn’t really catch my interest at first. It mixes the kinetic, bordering-on-spastic camera work of 24 with what can only be described as the complete opposite of linear storytelling to create an hour of television that many will find more confusing than enjoyable. The action sequences, while well done, are nothing spectacular and by the end of the pilot, viewers will have no better idea of who these characters are than when the show began. Relationships will be established, yes, but who these people are, what their objectives are and what exactly drives their actions remains fuzzy. Those behind the show will hope this leads to a mystery that compels audiences to return next week, but the reality is that it makes the show difficult to sell.
Base on the title, one would assume that some big event happens to set the story into motion. The nature of this event – or even if it’s already occurred or happening soon – remains a mystery. In parallel story lines, the first Cuban American president, played by Blair Underwood (Dirty Sexy Money, In Treatment), discovers that a giant cover up has taken place, involving a group of scientists held as prisoners in an Alaskan prison. The head agent in charge of the cover up is played by Zeljko Ivanek (24, Heroes), meaning by default (and typecasting) that he is a giant, evil liar. The head of the group of captured scientists, played by Laura Innes (ER) is warned that someone is about to release their secret to the president.
Meanwhile, our plucky protagonist Sean Walker, played by Jason Ritter (Parenthood, The Class), goes on a cruise with his fiancé, who disappears mysteriously after being hung over due to a prior adventure they’d had with a mysterious couple they met mysteriously in a perilous (mysterious?) situation. When goes to the customer service desk of the cruise ship, he learns that he and his girlfriend weren’t in the ships computer and he must be crazy.
Somehow this all leads to the Scientist and the President (by this point, character names aren’t really important) waiting to give a live press conference from the President’s Miami home during his son’s birthday party. At the same time, Sean is on a plane driven by his future father-in-law (Gilmore Girls’ Scott Patterson, looking a little rough), trying to hijack the cockpit.
And none of that is the “What the fuck?!” moment I mentioned earlier.
Throughout the entire hour, the story line jumps from present time (the press conference/plane hijack) to flashbacks ranging from weeks to months to hours. Non-linear storytelling can really work, but when a show jumps from present day to two weeks ago to six months ago to an hour ago back to three months ago, it gets a little convoluted pretty quickly. Nothing is told in order and scenes are replayed as though the writers couldn’t fill their whole 42 minutes in the pilot.
Despite all this, that hook is quite the hook if you were hoping to go from straight action adventure into something a little… more. While the first 40 minutes only gave me flashbacks of the first season of 24 without the benefit of Misha Collin’s awful hair and Ukrainian accent, the last two minutes left me with my jaw on the floor in the middle of a packed Comic Con viewing crowd, where we all collectively said “What the fuck?!” out loud.*
While well acted, the plotting could use some work and hopefully the show relies less on such frequent and uneven flashbacks as the pilot does. It could quickly head down the convoluted and frustrating pattern of Heroes, where people do and say things that don’t make any sense while entire storylines disappear mysteriously. Then again, maybe it’ll take the momentum provided by that “What the fuck?!” moment and do something great.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (cautiously optimistic) – It has a strong cast and the potential to do some great things, but the writing needs to tighten up and the storytelling needs to stop flashing back so much before it gives me a seizure. Will give it five episodes.
* I am only exaggerating a little bit.