Wednesday, September 22, 2010

NBC's The Event - One Part Intrigue, One Part Annoying

This review is not “the event.” I mean, probably.

But who knows, really? Certainly not the stars of NBC’s The Event. I’m hoping the creators and writers have some idea, but I’m not holding my breath. The first episode—which I’ve now viewed three times—was clunky, overstuffed, and needlessly confusing. I’m going to keep watching just in case the show does become the next Lost, as it so desperately wants to be. But let's not forget that it could also be the next FlashForward, an overwrought journey that never paid off.

For now, let me give you an analogy. Puzzles are fun—who doesn’t like putting them together? (If you don’t, just pretend you do and work with me here.) You get all the pieces, you sort through them, and you slowly create a picture that makes sense. It’s tedious and often frustrating, but you’re satisfied in the end. At its best, Lost was a puzzle. But what if the puzzle has been done for you already? And then, instead of just giving you the full picture, the same jerk who did the work for you shakes the hell out of it and asks you to pick up the pieces? Are you annoyed yet? That’s The Event.

I’m OK with confusion. I’m OK with shows that take time to make their point. But The Event was difficult for the sake of being difficult. Part of the thrill of shows like this is in unraveling the mystery along with the characters. In The Event, everyone seems to know more than we do. While they work to make sense of the strange happenings going on around them, the show confounds us with an endless stream of flashbacks. There’s enough wackiness here that The Event could work with a more straightforward format—there’s no reason that it would diminish the potential for twists, turns, and “holy crap” moments. As it stands, the show is, frankly, a pain in the ass.

"But flashbacks were essential to Lost," you say. And I agree. Now think about those flashbacks compared to the ones on The Event, and you’ll see the root of the problem. For the most part, Lost moved forward—yes, sometimes at a snail’s pace—and the flashbacks fleshed out the characters we were following. Occasionally they provided key information, but more often than not, they were used to underscore the emotional resonance of a character’s storyline, to give further insight into their arc. In The Event, the flashbacks are an “eff you” to the audience; indeed, the first episode repeatedly cut away from the action, jumping around frenetically to avoid offering any sort of conclusion.

You can’t make a show “the next Lost” just by proclaiming it to be “the next Lost.” You also can’t create event television simply by calling your series The Event. I admire the ambition of this show, but I’m not convinced it’s going to achieve the greatness it aspires to. Yes, the cast is charming and full of familiar faces, which is usually enough for me to set up my Season Pass. And yes, the show's mysteries, however vague, have piqued my interest. But the execution of the series premiere was weak. No matter how loudly the hype machine shouts, The Event, so far at least, is a victim of poor storytelling and obvious audience manipulation.

Of course, we can still speculate on what “the event” is. I’m sure we will in weeks to come, and I welcome the water-cooler discussion. Let’s just hope it’s something worth talking about.

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