Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Review: CONTINUUM (Showcase)

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

It's been awhile since there was a pure-blooded sci-fi TV series that I've liked (since Battlestar Galactica?), and while it's too early to be sure if Continuum will fill that gap, I was certainly more impressed than I expected to be. No disrespect to Canadian TV, but their homegrown SF/fantasy output always feels like it's lagging behind their American neighbours. Continuum is hardly cutting-edge stuff either, but it's a nice idea with a solidly constructed premiere that's good enough to coax you back—if only because of a surprisingly knotty moral dilemma bubbling in the background.

Please, no jokes about women drivers
It's Orwellian dystopia time in 2077 A.D; a world where failing governments were bailed out by wealthy corporations that proceeded to transform the planet into an oppressive police state. Eight terrorists (calling themselves "Liber8") are captured and imprisoned for destroying city buildings and causing the deaths of thousands, but before they can be executed these "freedom fighters" escape through a time portal that accidentally snares future-cop Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols). Dumped 65 years in the past, Cameron resolves to recapture the escaped felons, before they succeed in starting a war against the regime that's a good half-century from rising to power. Aiding her from his bedroom is 17-year-old computer whizz Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), the inventor of the bio-mechanical gizmos Cameron's outfitted with; like a brain implant that records everything she sees, hears and smells—through which he's able to speak to her remotely and feed her intel.

It's a nice premise, as these things go. Obviously it's another variation on the commonplace manhunt sub-genre (familiar to current audiences of Breakout Kings and Alcatraz), while Cameron's futuristic technology give her skills and abilities that almost transform her into a Bionic Woman (complete with Terminator-style HUD), and the slick direction from 24 regular Jon Cassar lends the first two episodes a compelling rhythm and feel that I hope the rest of the season maintains.

But the real gristle to chew on is knowing that, from the audience's perspective, the Liber8 villains are actually fighting for western ideals we agree with (free speech, democracy). This in itself gives the show a very unique position, because the heroine's actually a brainwashed cog in a 1984¬-style civilisation, while the show's bad guys are actually the righteous ones. And yet, they did kill thousands of innocent people in a future equivalent of 9/11 to make themselves heard. So you can't condone their actions, but you can agree with their politics. I didn't expect Continuum to have this particular wrinkle to it, but it's a very interesting one to thrash out. How long until Cameron starts to realise the Liber8 fugitives, led by Travis Verta (24's Roger Cross), have principles that don't sound all that crazy to anyone but herself in 2012? Will she come to agree with what they stand for once it's explained to her? What exactly do Liber8 hope to achieve now they're stuck decades in the past? It would surely make sense to try and ensure the governments don't go broke, but that doesn't sound like a very dramatic goal that's likely to be achieved by eight people who don't technically exist.

Only 5 MB left? But I defragged Tuesday!
From a production stance, Continuum looked good (comparable to a quality Syfy series) and did a particularly neat job with early sequences set in the late-21st century—with plenty of clever touches about how everyday life operates in 2077—and when the action switched to 2012 the fun didn't dissipate because Cassar kept things looking interesting. The acting isn't anything to get excited about, but G.I Joe's stern Nichols is appealing and her co-star Victor Webster isn't as wooden as he looks. For genre fans, there's also lots of familiar character actors to give the show added flavour: from Andromeda's Lexa Doig and Caprica's Brian Markinson, to Stargate's Tony Amendola, and The X Files' William B. Davis.

Overall, it's not reinventing the wheel but Continuum is a proficient and likable new sci-fi action drama, with a few intriguing elements that make it feel fresher than anticipated. Will it get bogged down in the procedural format it establishes after two episodes, becoming a TV version of TimeCop that's settled on 2012 as its playground? Perhaps. But I'm willing to give Continuum the benefit of the doubt for now, because it was a pleasant surprise and I'm already interested to see what the well-drawn Libert8 gang get up to next. Although they need have to explain why eight people from the future are such a major threat to present-day cops (seeing as they're without any high-tech gadgets), and why they've instantly adapted to this historical setting while Cameron remains a fish-out-of-water who can't drive cars.

written by Simon Barry (1.1) & Jeff King (1.2) / directed by Jon Cassar / 27 May & 3 June 2012 / Showcase