Wednesday, 1 June 2011

So that was THE EVENT, that was...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Like many shows before it, THE EVENT was hyped as the successor to Lost before making its debut last autumn--a marketing plot that's officially become the kiss of death for new sci-fi drama. I dearly wish the American marketing folk would use less hyperbole; all they do is inflate expectations to unreasonable levels, secure a healthy audience for the expensive premiere, and then wonder why there's such a sharp and painful decline in viewership. Of course, in The Event's case, it was understandable why people grew bored of it after a month or so: the limp central characters, the annoying ambiguity of the "non-terrestrials" enemies (or misunderstood friends?), the ludicrously arcane dialogue, that irritating overuse of flashbacks...

By the time we'd started the back-half of the season (after another of those preposterously long hiatuses that kill a show dead all by themselves), I had stopped reviewing the show because I was just repeating the same points over and over. But I did keep watching on Channel 4 here in the UK, as I'm a sucker for most things sci-fi and, to be fair, The Event did return from hiatus with a few exciting developments. And here's the thing: The Event actually got quite good once it admitted it's 24-with-aliens and embraced the possibilities of that concept.

There were always overtones of Fox's 24 in the show, primarily because The Event likewise utilizes the President of the United States as a main character, but the second-half of The Event started to borrow from the now-defunct action thriller more and more. We had a black President (Blair Underwood) being removed from power by the 25th Amendment; a misguided Vice President (Bill Smitrovich) who became the show's "Charles Logan" figure because of his corruption and role as the enemy's pawn; and de facto hero Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) ditched his dreary fiance Leila (Sarah Roemer) to globe-trot with bad-girl-gone-good Vicky (smoking hot Taylor Cole). Sean's no Jack Bauer figure (the one element The Event couldn't replicate within its ensemble), but he was doing Bauer-lite things on a weekly basis. The story even took some later turns into pure 24 territory by having the aliens try to decimate the world's population using a doomsday virus—even lifting a memorable set-piece from 24's fifth season, regarding a shopping mall test-site for a lethal contagion.

And let's face it, in a US TV landscape that no longer has 24 on its airwaves, The Event's decision to copy that show worked in its favour. It helped that it was even free of 24's often problematic real-time format (Sean and Vicky could jet to France and back over a few episodes), and its sci-fi underpinnings could raise the stakes to a level that would be far too ludicrous even for 24. Bauer had to deal with nationwide threats on a regular basis, but The Event could takes things truly global—with literally billions of lives hanging in the balance.

In the season/series finale, the writers even answered the core question used to promote the show all last summer: "What Is The Event?" Well, the answer wasn't crystal clear, but it has something to do with a predicted moment of volatile "evolution" for the aliens. A moment that so concerned them they left Earth millennia before humans ever existed. I'm still scratching my head, if I'm honest, and I'm not sure the writers really know the details, but at least we have an idea that "the event" is something genetic and relevant to alien physiology.

I'm rather annoyed The Event has been cancelled now, which surprised me. The majority of season 1's second-half was mostly enjoyable and silly fun, even if it started copying the broad strokes of a different show entirely. The year's big cliffhanger also promised huge change and excitement for a second season we'll now never see, as the alien race literally transported their entire planet to sit beside Earth. Forget about the science of that actually happening (imagine the gravitational effects on Earth's rotation and tides, for starters!), and consider the awesome visual of an alien world suddenly appearing in the sky. There's no way to contain that in a government conspiracy! How would the world have reacted to this event in season 2? Would our characters have visited the alien planet at some point, or would that have been beyond the budget? And was it always the plan to end the season on this note, or was it just an epic final image the producers wanted to leave fans agog with, forever, knowing their show was doomed?

I don't know. But I do know that The Event, while never able to shake off its core problems, definitely improved as it time ticked along, and became an enjoyable and reliably entertaining piece of nonsense. With a whole summer to rethink their tactics, flesh-out some characters, introduce some fresh faces, and tackle the things that went wrong, I suspect The Event could have returned later with an even better sophomore season. It's just a pity US TV shows are launched on a tidal wave of hype most nascent shows can never justify from their pilots, as many shows need a whole year to find their voice, realize their strengths, and iron out their problems. I don't blame anyone for giving up on The Event as early as episode 3 or 4, and I'm not saying it evolved into a truly wonderful show by the end... but it most definitely became a consistently fun one. I'll miss it more than FlashForward, anyway...