Nathan Fillion and Kristin Lehman, <EM>Drive</EM> Nathan Fillion and Kristin Lehman, Drive

Rob and Amber wouldn't survive a day in this sprawling journey. Premiering Sunday at 8 pm/ET before settling into its Mondays-at-8 time slot, Fox's Drive takes a wide swatch of types — played by  Nathan Fillion, Dylan Baker, Kevin Alejandro, Taryn Manning and Kristin Lehman, to name only a few — then raises the flag on a super-mysterious, super-secret underground cross-country race. Giving the assorted strangers their driving papers (in the form of compelling if not always life-threatening reasons to race) is a man known only as Mr. Bright (played by Charles Martin Smith, whom I will always think of as American Graffiti's Terry "the Toad"). But the one actually steering this ambitious and exciting enterprise is none other than one of the go-to guys for cult-hit cache, Tim Minear of Angel and Firefly fame.

Is Drive worth putting yourself in the viewer's seat for? Consider the following:

These strangers with a common purpose are, yes, Heroes of a sort (a handy calling-card for a Monday show). Surveying his massive cast and the central premise, Minear says, "They're all involved in this race, so you have this unifying situation where all the characters have a similar goal. But they all have different reasons for that goal, so the individual character stories are their own stories, yet they're interconnecting." Employing a driving metaphor, he adds, "It's like on the freeway, how every car is its own universe. What we've done is take these little worlds and have them pinging off each other, and that creates interesting conflicts."

The inspiration? It's a mad, mad, mad, mad Matchbox world. It was Ben Queen, the cocreator, who had the idea," says Minear, recalling Drive's starting line. "He put these old matchbox cars on a table and said, 'It's an illegal cross-country road race with regular people in their own cars.'" Minear's first reaction? "No, thanks. I have to go!" But then, "As I thought about it, the thing that really appealed to me was the specificity of the idea, and how it could bear the weight of any story I wanted to tell. It could be comic. It could be a thriller. It could be melodrama. After doing things like Wonderfalls and Firefly and Angel and The Inside, the idea of putting all those things into one show got me excited."

Captain Tightpants is this go-to guy's go-to guy. Regarding the man who previously piloted an entirely different vehicle on Firefly and its big-screen incarnation, Serenity, Minear says of Nathan Fillion, "He's become a revelation for me again. He was one already on Firefly, and then I watch him in this and I'm just thinking, 'OK, I previously thought you were Harrison Ford. Now I think you're Harrison Ford and James Garner put together.' He's the quintessential leading man — and he makes it look so easy that I have a suspicion that it may, in fact, be easy for him."

Speaking of stars, you'll love his cast. Just don't fall in love with them. Explaining how the big ensemble will vary from race to race, season to season, Minear says, "You will find out that some people were working for the [mysterious] race [organizers]. Some people will die if they don't behave. Some people will lose, some people will win, and new people can be added at any time."

When it comes to flashbacks, what once was Lost's, he now has found. Though at first Minear swore off employing the handy and au courant storytelling device, he now says, "I will absolutely use any narrative tool that will help me. So yes, there will be flashbacks, flash-forwards.... What we won't probably be doing is time travel."

Yes, even Tim Minear gets scared. You know his credits, and oh, how you love them. And that very adoration, those special expectations, weigh heavily on Minear as he launches another buzzworthy brainchild. "It's intimidating," he says, "because you start to sort of develop a 'brand,' and people have expectations. And you don't want to disappoint them." Minear then cites an example of something that, as is his style, didn't catch fire until it was too late: "My last show, The Inside, a lot of people didn't know what to make of it. And then after it went off the air, it turned up on the Internet, and people sort of discovered it and realized, 'Oh, it's not that [strange].'"

Minear knows where the finish line is. When it is, though... well, that's a different story. With 13 episodes originally set to air, and a finite area of country to drag his drivers across, Minear knows that he's working in a closed space. "If we weren't [a] mid-season [show], 22 [episodes] would take us from a start to a finish," he says. "[But] 13 isn't enough to get me to the end of one of these races, so you're going to get a natural stopping point at 13, and when we come back, we will finish the race."

Go for a "test Drive" in this video preview.

Read more about Nathan Fillion's passion to Drive in the April 16 issue of TV Guide. Click here to subscribe.

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