Tuesday, October 04, 2005

TV Review: "Surface," Episode # 3

Having now viewed a few weeks of Invasion, a few of Threshold and a few of Surface, I must say, I'm probably most comfortable with the pacing of Surface. Threshold moves fast - but borders on incoherent - and not much happens in the story arc, and some important details seem to get forgotten week-to-week (like the whole "aliens trying to access the Internet" plot. See? I told you, I'm going to mention that until it gets resolved...). Invasion is certainly the best drama of the three in terms of writing and acting, and it has a great, slow-burn, creepy mood, but on the downside it seems to move at a snail's pace. Surface continues to develop nicely, with enough good character moments and story "events" to keep one interested, rather than either confused (Threshold) or slightly bored (Invasion). It actually moves at the pace of an relatively decent blockbuster movie, each week, and that's cool. It also, without question, has the most ambition. Showing us a believable new (or extinct?) species is something that demands a lot of effects work.

As I watched Surface, I marveled at the unfolding plot. So this is really a TV show about sea monsters? Wow! How cool is that? It's not an alien invasion show at all (or will it take another turn?) I really like that, especially since all three of these shows seemed virtually interchangeable during premiere week. Three episodes in, Surface doesn't feel like any other program on TV; or that has ever been on TV; but rather as though Godzilla or some other monster movie was grabted the luxury of 22 hours to tell its tale, and could therefore focus on things like the origin and nature of the monster, and the lives of the characters affected by it. The E.T. subplot about the kid with the sea monster now appears to be the heart of the series, and I actually find the lead character, Laura, the least interesting person so far. The guy having post-traumatic stress over his diving experience is clearly living a Close Encounters-type situation with a wife at home who doesn't understand him. I mentioned these very films last week in my review too, and I'm more convinced than ever that they were the inspiration for Surface. But the very fact that Surface has 22 weeks (and possibly a few seasons...) to weave its story makes it original enough. The very intimate nature of television will assure us that we get to see different sides of the story than a feature film could afford.

What was good this week? The opener, which saw a vortex open on Lake Travis in Texas. A small motorboat with a teeny-bopper aboard got sucked in, while a para-sailer watched in terror above, tethered to the doomed craft. That was a creepy opener, worthy of The X-Files (though there was a similar sort of para-sailing scene in the opener of Jurassic Park III, right?) Also noteworthy was the information on the home territory of these giant critters. Turns out they live inside volcanoes and are virtually immune to heat. The shot of these giant things rolling around in lava was worth the whole hour, if you ask me. And, I admit it, I'm a sucker for stories of kids befriending monsters, so I was touched by the scene of the kid finding and taming the wee beastie in the washing machine. I know, I'm sentimental. What can I say?

What wasn't so good? First all, the special effects sequence of Old Faithful exploding in Yellowstone National Park. That must be some of the worst process work I've seen on TV since Crusade. Very crappy effects. Which is weird, since the sea monster effects seem consistently good to me.

Also, I'm amused and irritated - if not surprised - by Laura Daughtery's predicament. She lives in this great house on the water, with expensive furniture (lush sofas, etcetera) and yet she complains of poverty. It's like a million dollar house or something! Hollywood always feeds us this sort of crap. Movies and TV shows reveal to us "single mothers" working hard to make it on their own, but they live in friggin' gorgeous homes. If Laura is really hurting for money, there's no need to work as a waitress. She should sell her house, and move into a little garden apartment in a complex somewhere nearby. She could live off the proceeds of the house sale for a few years, believe me. I hate how production designers always pull this nonsese...it sells a false image of America, and middle class life. No way that a single mom scientist, just out of school could afford a place like Laura's (on the water and beautifully furnished). More likely, she'd live in a dump. Probably it ain't fair to rag on Surface about this industry-wide gap between reality and illusion, but Surface makes Laura's poverty a part of the drama, and it just doesn't ring true. She could have a furniture sale and live high off the hog for two months!

Still, I'm liking Surface, and sticking with it. This one isn't a chore to watch, and I actually like it more every week.

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