Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TV REVIEW: Threshold: "Progeny"

Threshold returned to prime-time last night, fleeing from CBS's Friday night schedule to make room there for CBS's Close to Home. This episode, "Progeny" concerned yet another method by which those pesky aliens can infiltrate and enslave humanity: fertility clinics! Seems that one of the crew (a fella named Sanford) from the infected ship is also a regular sperm donor. His alien-contaminated semen has been used to inseminate three normal women; transforming them into loyal soldiers to the cause.

One of the women infected this week was Showgirls' star Elizabeth Berkeley. That alone made the episode worth watching. That, and Carla Gugino in a red party dress.

It does seem a waste, however, to feature Berkeley in an episode about artificial insemination. It would have been much better if she had been having a hot, torrid illicit affair with the alien-infected guy. Which brings us to this point: You're an alien hoping to infect as many people as possible as quickly as possible, okay? You find out that you can pass the bio-altering signal by sexual transmission. So which course do you take: become a sperm donor (and risk that doctors could find your genetic abnormality and rule you out...) or just go on a rape bender instead? I mean, I'm certainly not advocating rape, but I'm thinking logically here. Imagine how much damage six infected men could do if they just went around raping "Earth women," rather than depending on being sperm donors? They would transform people a lot quicker, methinks! This is where Threshold always loses me: the plots don't hold up if you think about them for more than six seconds. Each story manages to grab defeat from the jaws of victory...

But seriously, Threshold is still just treading water. The aliens have now tried to get their bio-altering signal to the masses through the Internet, cell phones and ATMs, driftwood(!) and fertility clinics. In every case, the Threshold team has stopped the plan cold; sometimes using quite extreme measures (an electromagnetic pulse; a guided missile; and in this episode, fire...) So are the aliens just plain stupid or what? Why are they too dumb to try the Internet angle again? Why are they so ineffective that they resort to donating sperm rather than merely impregnating Earth woman?

But no matter the details of the alien-plan-of-the-week, the big flaw in this series is that the main characters don't develop at all from episode to episode; and every story so far is virtually the same. In your typical episode, we begin with an "outbreak" as Molly calls it; an alien-infection inspired incident (here, it's a series of three incidents: a decapitation, an exploding woman at a hot dog stand, and Berkeley punching through a bank teller's window glass). Then the team finds out about it, organizes, and after your typical second-act difficulties, then eliminates the threat using some pretty serious means (after imitating Department of Homeland Security Officers). Oh, and Brent Spiner puts in a guest appearance, gets the best lines, and effectively steals every scene he's in.

So, Threshold, when do we get a new plot? When will the characters get a chance to do something different? Although as a horror fan, I must say I enjoyed the blood and guts from "Progeny" (including that decapitation and exploding woman...), I found precious little else to enjoy here. I am curious to see what will become of the alien-infected "fetus," however. That's something that I assume we will see paid off, if the series survives much longer...

Again, however, I've got to criticize Threshold on the grounds that it feels like a Star Trek series transplanted to modern day. Every episode spends 40 minutes on threat; 5 minutes on pat wrap-up and resolution. Each team member has a "special ability" that comes in handy (just like on an Away Team!) and the good guys always win. Again, I accept the deus ex machina endings and two-dimensional characters on Star Trek because of the rules of that universe. I don't accept these flaws in a drama like Threshold, set in our world. The series just shouldn't feel so contrived.

I read somewhere online(?) about a three-season plan for Threshold, involving the aliens eventually taking over the planet, and the team members of Threshold having to fight to stay alive. I must admit, that sounds incredibly cool. But if Threshold is to feature a story-arc, the writers better get started. We've already seen the same story too many times now, and I don't know how long a leash CBS has given the show. The network has ordered three more scripts, but that isn't exactly promising.

needs to show us what it's got; and it needs to do so in a hurry.


  1. Hi John,

    I totally agree with you, way too Star Trek writing formula for me. But I did like this episode better than some of the earlier ones. You may have already heard, but it looks like Threshold will be canceled. It isn't 100%, but CBS has taken it off their schedule.

  2. I just saw the news about Threshold. I guess it's done and over with then. Somehow, I'm not surprised this happened. I think that Threshold was the worst of the three new sci-fi shows. Not because the concept stunk, but because the execution did. Every week - same story.


McClane Binge: Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard  is the movie that launched a hundred cinematic knock-offs or so.  John McTiernan’s blockbuster 1988 so dramatically and t...