On Syfy, Fantasy Lite
"In this job, there's no such thing as no such thing."
That clever quip gives us summer Syfy in a nutshell. As spoken by Warehouse 13's glib Secret Service hero Pete Lattimer (the genial Eddie McClintock) to his foxy partner Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) while both are plastered to a Victorian ceiling by some anti-gravity device or other, we are served the fantastic with a side order of whimsy, with very little ever taken seriously.
Warehouse 13 is sci-fi that just wants to be liked, tasty as it goes down but about as long-lasting as a swirl cone from an ice-cream truck on a 90-plus degree day. And just about as welcome for those seeking jaunty escapism during the summer. It was an instant hit a year ago, premiering the same night the former Sci Fi Channel took on its peculiar new name. Far from suffering an identity crisis, Syfy has flourished with this kind of light entertainment.
Besides Warehouse, which returns for a second season Tuesday night (9/8c), Syfy launches the fourth season of the equally fanciful Eureka Friday night (9/8c), pairing it with the new but very familiar series Haven (10/9c), a dreary example of a channel so in love with its own success that it dips from the well of sameness once too often. It's Eureka without inspiration, minus the "wow" factor. It barely rates even a "huh?"
But let's accentuate the positive here, since that's the tone Syfy so strenuously seeks to convey this busy week. Warehouse gets off to a fine start, untangling the cliffhanger mess that left us worrying that Warehouse caretaker Artie (professional schlub Saul Rubinek) had been blown up by the machinations of arch-villain MacPherson (Roger Rees in deliciously full snivel) and that funky apprentice Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) was somehow embroiled in the scheme.
While all of that is sorted out with the help of CCH Pounder's gratifyingly no-nonsense Mrs. Fredric, Pete and Myka follow a lead to London where sci-fi visionary H.G Wells has been resurrected in unusual form. By the time the hour is over, we get shout-outs to Young Frankenstein, first-edition comic books and, coolest of all, a mysterious vault inspired by M.C. Escher. (I hope this isn't the last we've seen of the Escher Vault.) Even when the show gets a bit silly, there's a healthy sense of wonder at the origin of the artifacts our heroes regularly track down.
Next week's episode, guest-starring Firefly vets Sean Maher and Jewel Staite, is also fun, a winningly cautionary tale for superhero wannabes, playing to the kid in all of us who never outgrew a fondness for comic books and most especially magical gizmos. It ends with what I can only describe as an atomic pantsing.
Eureka also starts strong, with a time-travel misadventure on Founders' Day that sends Sheriff Jack Carter, his unrequited love interest Allison, Deputy Jo, uber-geek Fargo and town sage Henry back to a time when Eureka was still "Camp Eureka," a 1947 military facility only beginning to reveal its true purpose. This isn't merely a campy Eureka, although there is a nice joke about Henry blending in because even back then, nobody looked twice at a black mechanic. (There's a fun nod to Terminator lore as well.)
Colin Ferguson's "Oh you gotta be kidding" shtick gets a good workout here as they plot how to get back to 2010, and what happens next gives the show ample opportunity to mix things up for the fourth season, a time when many shows of this type tend to get stale. There's a reason next week's episode is titled "A New World," although as Carter mutters at one point, "Another day, another runaway robot." Even when you turn a show like Eureka on its head, you're already dealing with a show where topsy-turvy in the natural condition. Fitting right in is new regular James Callis (Battlestar Galactica's devious Baltar) as a renowned scientist who takes an instant shine to Eureka, even in its newly altered state.
Early on in Friday's season premiere, Fargo describes the town of Eureka as a "creative haven." Wish I could say the same about Haven, a by-the-numbers dud which seems to exist only because Syfy programmers are inordinately fond of remote burgs that harbor oddballs with weird gifts. Based very loosely on one of the flimsiest Stephen King novellas (The Colorado Kid) I've ever read and immediately forgot, Haven stars Emily Rose as the latest incarnation of the flip, irreverent FBI agent: Audrey Parker, whose tastes lean toward teen vampire novels but who is cautioned by her boss, "FBI is nonfiction work."
An assignment to track down an escaped prisoner leads her to the coastal Maine town of Haven, which is (no surprise) a haven for the supernatural, starting with the sinkhole that greets her rental car upon arrival. Rose handles her sardonic chores fairly well, but the locals are mostly terribly written and poorly acted, including wooden hunk Lucas Bryant as a detective who can't feel pain. I wish I were as lucky. (Added caveat: Eric Balfour as a smirky shady character making eyes at Audrey.)
When Agent Parker crosses paths with a person whose mood shifts create cataclysmic changes in the local weather (never for the good), she comes to realize she's found a "haven for God's orphans." Which triggers a chord in Little Orphan Audrey, who finds a clue to her own cloudy past in an old newspaper photo. (The geezers who run the paper are the main link to the original Colorado Kid story, which is echoed in an archival headline.)
There's nothing about Haven that isn't derivative at best and dispiriting at worst. Maybe it will find that spark of fun and surprise that fuels the best moments of Eureka and Warehouse 13, but for now, I've reached my limit.
Syfy, try something new next time. (And I'm not sure remaking BBC America's brilliant Being Human is what I have in mind.)
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