This is the question NBC seemingly wants us all asking, hoping that, come September 20, we tune in to the network’s new serialized genre series to find out just what the answer is. The advertising has built the mystery up to such an extent that, after catching a screening of the pilot at Comic-Con on Saturday (July 24), I would relish the opportunity to spoil the secret for those not in attendance. Fortunately, I am unable to: I have no idea what “The Event” is.
[This article contains some spoilers.]
Which would be okay if I were simply referring to the nebulous “event” that drives the show’s master plot and is ultimately responsible for all the haphazard SUV driving and airplane hijinks that comprise most of the pilot. Obviously this is a mystery show, and one episode is far too early into the run to start complaining about a dearth of answers. But I am referring to “The Event” as a show. I have no idea what it is, or what the pilot, with its asynchronous narrative and harried editing, is about. There’s some sort of large-scale cover-up concealing (even from the President) something called “the event,” and beyond that it’s a lot of chase scenes, plane hijacking, presidential retreats, Alaskan prisons and cruise-ship shenanigans that never really cohere into anything comprehensible.
Executive producer and “24” alumnus Evan Katz and his team, however, promised the audience that they would not be “frustrated” by the series, and assured us that the second episode (the pilot ends, somewhat needlessly in a serialized show these days, with “to be continued…”) would give viewers a sense of what’s happening. We were assured that this would not be one of those shows where they “have no idea what they’re doing,” or that they “make it up as they go.” I’m not sure if these comments were intended as such, but the audience chuckling and whispering that ensued certainly suggested that they were taken as a tongue-in-cheek jab at “Lost.”
But to whatever extent “Lost” was a mystery right up to and beyond the series finale, its pilot (which also premiered at Comic-Con) nonetheless provided a central premise (a group of plane crash survivors forced to come together and survive on a desert island) that audiences found compelling, and that carried the series as it delved into deeper mystery. As far as I can tell, so far, “The Event” is focused so exclusively on the ideas of “conspiracy” and “mystery” that it deems everything else superfluous.
And on top of it all, I lost all sense of what the point of reference was supposed to be. We begin with a clock giving us the specific time of day (and really serving no other purpose than to draw reference to 24), and the next scene begins with an intertitle letting us know we’ve moved a few minutes earlier. And then we’re “eleven days earlier,” and then “eight days earlier” (I think). I know that there was a meeting in some sort of Alaskan gulag (that the first-ever-Cuban-American President, played by Blair Underwood, wants to close for illegally detaining its prisoners—timely!) that took place something like “eleven months earlier,” but eleven months earlier than what, exactly, I’m not sure.
On a somewhat more positive note, Comic-Con did provide a surprisingly apt viewing experience for this kind of show. As the on-screen action centered around various attempts to either suppress or expose the truth about the “event,” real-life, dark-suited NBC security officers did their part to heighten the experience by patrolling the aisles in search of any recording equipment that might prematurely reveal the truth to the masses.
I was personally accosted by one particularly no-nonsense character (he even called in backup!) driven to suspicion by a flashing green light emanating from my laptop case. The offending equipment was, as I shockingly revealed, a laptop, and the ordeal cost me three dramatically intense viewing minutes, but it still left me with a fun sense of participation.
For their part the audience seemed to love the screening, applauding loudly at the episode’s closing credits, and again several times during the brief panel. To whatever extent the applause was obligatory (or outright demanded by the moderator), it seemed supported by various audience members filing out of the ballroom and commenting on how “cool” the pilot is and how excited they are to see what’s next. In a way it is an episode ideally suited for this venue: it gives very little away, and sets up a whole lot of intrigue designed to spur conversation. It provided us attendees with the sense that they we being let in on the big secret, when really we weren’t, at all.
There was also quite a positive reaction to a rather large visual payoff (which I won’t spoil) in the episode’s closing scenes that, while left completely unexplained, at least suggests something about the series’ scope. I suppose it’s a reveal in its own way, by letting us know that this confusing conspiracy plot we’d been watching is actually part of a grander science fiction narrative. The scene elicited a series of “oohs” and “ahhs,” and certainly boosted the show’s Comic-Con bona fides, but whether it’s enough to keep conversation going after audience the members walked ten feet from the door and were provided with other Comic-Con goodness to look at, remains to be seen. Because, really, there’s not a lot else that’s tangible to talk about.
The panel itself provided little outside the opportunity to look at the actors. Screening the episode was of course going to leave very little time for the actual discussion, but there were so many panelists to introduce (eleven, including the majority of the cast and the producers) that we were left with under ten minutes to actual hear from them. Not that having more time would have done much good: clearly none of them were going to provide more information about the show, and I can only imagine that most of the audience questions would have been something along the lines of, “so, what’s the ‘event’?” It’s unfortunate, though, considering the amount of talent on stage, including “X-Files” writer Jim Wong, and actors Blair Underwood, Laura Innes, and legendary that-guy-who’s-in-everything Zeljko Ivanek.
Luckily Underwood provided a few amusing moments in the short time he had, playing up his salsa dancing as a qualification for playing an African-Cuban-American President (eliciting the comment: “Salsa is not the event.”) Hopefully his natural flair and charisma are better incorporated into future episodes.
What they seemed to want us to take from the panel is that if we “loved shows like ‘Lost’ and ‘24’,” we’ll love “The Event.” It may be an effective selling point, but it’s also a strange one, considering the show’s biggest problem might be that it’s such an amalgamation of recent, serialized genre television that it’s impossible to tell what “The Event” is in its own right. Maybe this will be remedied later in the first season, or maybe even in the second episode, but for the time being this particular screening and panel are best summed up by the pilot’s closing line, in which an especially mysterious character, played by Innes, turns to Underwood’s stunned President Martinez and says, “I haven’t told you everything.”
Make that “anything” and you’ve got it.