Saturday, September 24, 2005

TV Review: Threshold, Episode # 2: "Blood of the Children"

There is one reason and one reason alone to watch the underwhelming Brannon Braga produced "invasion" series Threshold (airing on CBS, Friday nights at 9:00 pm). That reason is named Brent Spiner. This charming actor plays the scientist Nigel Fenway, and brings a vitality and energy to the role that is otherwise missing from this - *ahem*- enterprise. Of course, Spiner starred as Lt. Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation and did a brilliant job there over the years, so Threshold could scarcely have a better actor to rattle off techno-babble dialogue and make it seem utterly believable. More than that, we hang on his every word, so delicious is Spiner's delivery. But more to the point, as Nigel, Spiner seems 100% unleashed to display his wicked, droll sense of humor. He is sarcastic, funny, cynical and everything else we might want from a world-weary character like this. He also gets all the best lines. His delivery of the joke about Blue Cross/Blue Shield co-pays in last evening's sophomore episode, "Blood of the Children" was utter perfection. His spinning of that line took the joke (about a 5 on a scale of 10...) up to perhaps an 8 or 9.

Alas, the rest of the show is grim. Especially the other performances. Charles Dutton is a great actor - no bones about it - but as Baylock he is bombastic and goes way over the top in his line-readings. Someone should tell him to tone it down. Carla Gugino, an actress I have admired in films such as The Singing Detective and Sin City, seems lost here, or at least though she isn't quite sure which scene she's in or what notes she's supposed to hit. And "Blood of the Children" also features the worst attempt at a Southern accent I've heard in the last decade; provided by a guest star playing a military cadet. Apparently, nobody involved in Theshold, top down, has ever been anywhere near the South. People in Virginia don't talk like that. And they probably haven't for at least a hundred and fifty years. This accent is so bad (Kevin Costner Robin Hood bad...) it literally jarred me out of the storyline. I'm married to a Richmonder, and we live in North Carolina, so I know about this stuff. After ten years living near Charlotte (following six years in Richmond...) I've never heard an accent like that.

The wildly variable performances (Spiner and the fantastic Rob Benedict, late of the much-missed Felicity, are great...and Dutton, Gugino and the bland Van Holt are not so good) aren't the only problem on this program. The story presented last night was utterly confusing. For instance, during one tense moment, team leader Molly (Gugino) is chased through an Academy Library, down a flight of stairs and into a map room. She is pursued by a group of blank-faced pre-adolescent cadets, presumably under the influence of the series' alien invaders. They look robotic, and in a quick cut, as they descend a staircase after Molly, there is an odd green glow contributing to the feeling that they are aliens. But then, a few minutes later, it is established that they are just normal cadets (pre-adolescents can't be invaded by the aliens because of the thymus, apparently...) following a possessed older cadet - Jenklow - the one with the miserable Southern accent. Okay, then why did they chase Molly looking like Body Snatchers? Why the weird green glow? Hmmm? This moment of tension is revealed to be "false tension," a cheap shot.

I'm more confused and bothered by the alien plan. Apparently, the whole invasion of the Military Academy was to gain access to the Internet. Cuz you see, if the aliens could upload their genetics-altering signal to the worldwide web, something like 33% percent of the country would be infected in hours, at least according to Molly, who uses the spread of the "Paris Hilton sex tape" as her statistical model. The first thing is, that line about Paris Hilton isn't funny; the second is that you're comparing apples and oranges here. A lot of people are going to download something called "One Night in Paris," how many will download something that basically, according to the characters in the drama, looks like spyware? Are the aliens embedding their signal in porn? Because if that's the case, then Molly's joke would have made sense. Otherwise, it's a weak reach for humor.

But the worst part of all this is the overriding alien plan. A number of humans are infected by the aliens, right? So why did the aliens choose the Military Academy, where only one room (the library...) is wired up for the Internet? Why not go somewhere else and just upload the signal, off of any home computer, out of any public library, from any dorm room in Virginia, at any Internet cafe, and on and on and on? This must be one of the weakest plot devices I've seen on TV since...last week's Supernatural. The aliens must not be much of a threat if their "big plan" is to upload a signal to the Internet....and they can't even manage that relatively modest accomplishment. Yes, the danger in Threshold is an alien race that can travel across the void of space, alter genetics with a signal...but can't upload a file on the Net. Scary...

I've got to wonder, too, where this series is really going? Next week's episode, "The Burning" is set at a mental hospital where some of the patients may have been infected. How many times has a mental hospital been a setting for science fiction/horror TV shows like this? And is this going to be the nature of the series, a lot of running around at a different signature location each week? This week a Military Academy; next week a Mental Hospital? I'll wait with eager anticipation for the episode set in Chinatown, or the one on the Indian Reservation. Come on folks!

I knew the series was in trouble when my wife turned to me and commented "This feels like an episode of Enterprise." Yikes! My advice to the makers of Threshold: Unleash Brent Spiner and Rob Benedict now! With a little creative tweaking, this show could be the Monk of alien invasion set, especially if you put the babe (Molly) and the hunk (Van Holt) on the back-burner and made these two interesting actors (Spiner and Benedict) the leads instead. Imagine the two of these guys investigating cases, confronting aliens. That would be very, very interesting.

Until that happens, I'm giving Threshold the same deal as Supernatural. Five weeks - five episodes to prove the series has the right stuff. That's how long I hang with it. If it doesn't improve in five weeks - bye bye!

So far in the 2005 Fall season, I would consider Invasion the best new drama. I enjoy and am entertained (so far...) by Prison Break, Reunion, and Surface. Threshold is the weakest of the three new "alien" dramas, but still head-and-shoulders above the worst new show of the season, Supernatural. Next week, The Night Stalker premieres, and I'll be posting about it here too.


  1. I haven't found any of the new dramas all that entertaining and it's sad that I would list Reunion as my favorite new drama. For me, this season is the return of the sitcom with My Name Is Earl, Everybody Hates Chris and How I Met Your Mother extremely watchable.

    Scooter McGavin's 9th Green

  2. You bring up a good point. Both "Prison Break" and "Reunion" are what I would consider guilty pleasures. Very enjoyable and entertaining shows, but not necessarily high quality. Popcorn more than anything, I guess. I've heard goo dthings about My Name is Earl and Everybody Hates Chris, but nothing on How I Met Your Mother. I'll have to check 'em out...