Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Review: THREE INCHES (Syfy)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Developed in tandem with superhero drama Alphas, the similarly-themed Three Inches pilot wasn't taken to series by Syfy, who instead repackaged it as a TV Movie. Having watched the feature-length opener that aired before Christmas in the US, I can't say I'm disappointed we won't be seeing more, as this felt like a waste of a likable cast. It also continues to irritate me that so many US genre shows don't take risks, to give their audience something unexpected and unpredictable. That's what this genre is designed to do! Anyone could have thought up this Three Inches pilot, and it ultimately dies slowly because the characters are boring and the storyline equally so. There's almost nothing here to compel you to watch again, or beg for more episodes to be made, because it's nothing more than a collection of trite ideas—with the makers seemingly uninterested in giving us something fresh, innovative, or even tonally consistent.

Walter Spackman (Noah Reid) is the hero of the show: a 26-year-old still living at home with his mollycoddling mother (Andrea Martin), who makes him breakfast in bed every morning. On the day he plucks up the courage to admit his feelings for childhood inamorata Lily (Alona Tal), Walter's blown out by the girl of his dreams, then blown up by a bolt of lightning. A heavenly discharge that endows him with the seemingly trivial superpower of telekinesis over a three inch distant, which brings him to the attention of "contractor" Troy Hamilton (Buffy's James Marsters), who wants to add Walter to his team of superheroes. The gang include: quiet and sexy Watts (Stephanie Jacobsen), who can manipulate people's emotions; shy Annika (Naoko Mori), who can mimic any sound; outgoing Carlos (Antony Del Rio), who can emit stenches through his skin; scruffy Todd (Craig Eldridge), who can see two-minutes into the future at the risk of a migraine; gaunt Ethan (Julian Richings), who can communicate and control insects; and the team's handsome field leader Brandon (Kyle Schmid), who has no powers to speak of but is a great tactician.

It doesn't help that "superhero fatigue" is in the air, but Three Inches just didn't have enough of a must-see hook. The central joke that the gang's powers are silly doesn't even work, because most of the powers actually aren't that useless/crazy, and it's swiftly proven that Walter's own three inch limitation isn't so restrictive. You can do plenty of interesting things by giving objects a nudge from a short distance.

It's also not very funny, but to make matters worse it puts its funniest character—Walter's best buddy Macklin (Brandon Jay McLaren)—into the background, wasting him as a powerless sous chef! The characters closer to Walter's new life away from mom are unfortunately a rather dull bunch, who don't get a lot to do. Torchwood's Naoko Mori barely spoke a word, and Sarah Connor Chronicles' actress Stephanie Jacobsen is again playing an emotionally shutdown character. It's hard to enjoy this group's dynamic, because there isn't really one. They're just there; misfits thrown together. Admittedly pilots start from a base-level and we'd have hopefully seen progress over its non-existent season, but a good pilot does a better job of letting you want to come back to see that evolution continue. I had little to no interest in any of these people by the end.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Three Inches is the tone, which doesn't feel right. The show starts off being bright and silly as we follow Walter's during a typical sunny morning, only to turn quite dark after he's introduced to Troy and the others. This darkness persists, and nothing permeates it regarding Walter's interactions with his new friends. It just all starts to drag in the darkness, laughs evaporating, and you soon give up seeing this as a comedy (which it what it sounds like on paper), and instead realise it's wasting its own idea. This should have been approached with a lot more skill, panache, vigour, cleverness and wit. If you're going to do something with superheroes, especially in this day and age, you really need to bring a fresh new voice to the genre—as Misfits did a few years ago—otherwise what's the point of reworking the same old tropes? It's ultimately just another drearily executed superhero show with some genre-friendly faces, doing nothing of actual interest.

Three Inches won't be troubling you this year because Alphas was picked up by Syfy instead—and although that show shares some of the same problems, you can see it has a stronger sense of purpose, got a handle on its super-team a lot quicker, and knew how to pitch itself to audiences. Three Inches is comparatively a muddle.

written by Harley Peyton / directed by Jace Alexander / 29 December 2011 / Syfy