TV Review: NBC's 'The Event'
'The Event' stars Jason Ritter, Blair Underwood and more. This review is not The Event.
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I'm not exactly sure how "FlashForward" came to be the poster boy for disappointing post-"Lost" serialized network programming.
Yeah, ABC's promotion for the twisty drama began too early (May, pre-upfronts) and progressed too aggressively. But ABC got exactly what the network wanted from the first week of "FlashForward," which was to say a rare and never repeated Thursday 8 p.m. win.
Viewers began tuning out the very next week, but that was because the show wasn't very good. But "FlashForward" wasn't very good from the second half of its pilot on. I'd say once you get past the darned kangaroo, "FlashForward" had nothing at all to offer and it wasn't like ABC didn't know there were problems, what with the production delays and the showrunner changes and the myriad signs of creative discontent. Amusingly, there was a three or four episode stretch after the show returned from its long winter hiatus where it actually appeared that "FlashForward" had found a little purpose. That was an illusion and the show wrapped up with an awful and awfully disappointing finale.
In any case, "FlashForward" keeps coming up when people talk about NBC's "The Event," but not for any of the right reasons. There's this weird presumption that "FlashFoward" promised so much and delivered so little, but that was really true only if you stopped watching that pilot after 17 minutes.
But even if you consider the full "FlashForward" pilot, you're looking at an entirely superior piece of craftsmanship to anything offered by "The Event."
I get that manipulating audiences is a core job of the TV creator and that audiences clearly have proven that, under some circumstances, they enjoy the manipulation (right up until they get an ending or a character hook-up they don't like), but good grief!
"The Event" is all suspense cliches and coy teasing, with absolutely no narrative tissue holding things together.
[Full review of "The Event" after the break...]
I was dismissive of "The Event" in my Take Me To The Pilots preview entry and at least one person responded to my frustration/confusion by bringing up the "L"-word. What did I expect from a mystery show? Mystery shows are supposed to be, for want of a better word, "mysterious." And, after all, couldn't I have made all of the same complaints after watching the pilot for "Lost"?
And that, dear friends, is false on every level.
It's unfair to compare "Lost" and "The Event," since "Lost" had a two hour premiere, but be that as it may... After the premiere of "Lost" I knew and could recognize basic traits about a decent portion of the regular cast (not all, but close). I knew how they'd come to be where they were (in a literal sense, there was a plane crash and anything else beyond that was a secondary concern, an embellishment). I knew the basic wants and needs for every single character (survival, getting off the island, etc). I was able to make an assumption of what the general goal of the series would be (people want off the Island, people try to get off the island). And I knew that there was weird stuff going on. Did I know what that weird stuff would be or how it would play into the series to come? Of course not. But I knew enough to satisfy me on every level and it still turned out that the writers had one or two tricks up their sleeves.
"Lost" is one of the greatest pilots ever made.
So please, feel free to love "The Event." I'm certain that some of you are going to. But don't minimize complaints about the pilot by comparing it to "Lost." [Or, apparently, to "FlashForward." I'm writing this through a post Yom Kippur headache and it's true what they say about comparisons being a lazy man's best friend. What? Nobody says that? Well, they should. It's true.]
What is "The Event"?
Or, for that matter, what is The Event?
Given that NBC has mounted an entire marketing campaign around coyly telling viewers all of the things that The Event isn't, I don't feel any spoiler-based guilt in telling you that you won't learn the pilot what The Event is. No, "The Event" is the kind of show that feels actively terrified about revealing anything of import to its viewers.
Instead, Nick Wauters' pilot script is all winking and nudging and obfuscation. And it all proves completely successful, insofar as I was so thoroughly obfuscated that after 44 minutes, I could tell you nothing about most of the characters, nothing about their central concerns and even less about the central objective of the series going forward.
You see, there was this Event.
Well, it was an important Event.
Well, it's all very secretive.
Well, several characters are either curious about The Event or on the verge of finding out about it by accident.
No! The first rule of "The Event" is nobody talks about The Event!
Think of the pilot for "The Event" as an elaborate game of TV Three-Card Monte. We have a couple storylines. They all get jumbled together, shifted around in time and location and occasionally realigned with on-screen chyrons telling you who's story you're watching and when and then reshuffled. Then, at the end, the writer looks up at you and says, "I hope you've been watching the cards... Now where is the story?"
Or, better yet, think of "The Event" as a TV version of the famous dirty joke The Aristocrats. For 44 minutes Wauters and director Jeffrey Reiner throw seemingly random elements at the screen and then, just as you're about ready to change the channel over to CBS to watch "Hawaii Five-0," somebody turns to the camera and delivers the hilarious punchline... The Event!
It's like this...
So there's this guy named Sean (Jason Ritter) and he goes on a cruise and his girlfriend who looks like Blake Lively but isn't Blake Lively (Sarah Roemer) goes missing and he gets might concerned looking for her. And there's this President of the United States (Blair Underwood) and he's attending an event, but a year earlier, he's also learning about this Big Secret that he should have known about earlier, or that's what he tells his probably evil advisor (Zeljko Ivanek). And then there's this military guy (Ian Anthony Dale) and he's yelling at an airplane in one time frame, but in another, he's having cryptic conversations with some stern-looking woman (Laura Innes). So Sean is freaking out and the President is freaking out and the military guy is freaking out. And so audiences say, "I love it! What's your act called?" And they all turn and say, "The Event!"
If you hate that "in media res" storytelling technique where we open on action and then flash back to "8 hours earlier," you're going hate "The Event" with a thundering passion, since the show is a Russian nesting doll of in media res narrative futzing. I think that if you set "The Event" out in chronological order, there wouldn't be an iota of causality to anything that happens, but as a jumble, you're constantly trying to restore an order that never existed, so it keeps you working.
There are no actual developed characters (Ritter's worried boyfriend is probably closest to the exception) and there's no single dramatic element pushing the story into the next week other than inevitable audience confusion. We're supposed to feel like our confusion mirrors the confusion of the characters, which sometimes can be an appealing sensation, but the more pervasive sensation is that people on the screen know things that they aren't withholding from each other, only from us. And that's a frustrating sensation. At least a half dozen times during the pilot I literally -- not figuratively, I'm using "literally" right -- looked at my TV and said (or yelled) "Just as a direct question, you moron" or "Stop speaking in antecedent-free pronouns, you idiot." There's a difference between creating disorientation and yanking the audience around on a leash.
To me, this felt like the latter. But "The Event" is aimed at at an audience that will feel it's the former. That won't be the same audience, though, that was eager to go along for the ride on well-crafted open-ended journeys like "24" or "Lost." No. It'll be the same audience that enjoyed the empty perplexitude of something like "Happy Town" or "Vanished" or the aforementioned "FlashForward." NBC's summer series "Persons Unknown" had a similar approach, but that show's minimalist approach validated the lack of padding around its big questions. "The Event" is anything but minimalist.
As was also the case with "FlashForward," good actors engender an inevitable amount of good faith, even if nothing they're doing is especially good. Ritter and "Gilmore Girls" refugee Scott Patterson are the only actors breaking a sweat here, but there's a perpetual assumption that if you've liked Underwood before, you'll find him presidential here, or if you've loved Ivanek over his long stretch of scene stealing, you'll carry over some of that affection here. It didn't work for me. I felt bad for the actors, which isn't the same as feeling for their characters.
I've gone on for too long here, especially since all of my negative words bely a sad point: Unless "The Event" tanks so ridiculously in its first week that NBC has no choice but to hit all subsequent episodes in shame (something that isn't going to happen), I'll be watching the second episode and probably the third and probably the fourth and so on. That's partially based upon masochism, partially based around professionalism and, I'll confess, partially based on curiosity. I may have hated "The Event," but that doesn't mean I don't want to know what the show is actually about. And who knows? Maybe there is some steak to accompany this sizzle, but I wish somebody would bring it to the table already. It seems rude to extend an invitation to so many people without delivering an event.
"The Event" premieres on Monday, September 20 at 9 p.m.