Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eureka!

What did you want to be when you "grew up"?

For a little while, I wanted to be a Paleontologist. Then an FBI agent. Then a cartoonist. Then about four hundred other things.

Somewhere between Paleontologist and Professional Superhero (which would have made me eight years old or so), I briefly entertained the idea of being a mad scientist. Mostly, this came from a desire to invent crazy shit - along with a total lack of scientific understanding.

Like most of my passing career fancies, the mad scientist gig didn't hold my interest for too very long. It's been approximately twenty years since I thought about it at all. But last night's premiere of "Eureka" reminded me of that kooky kid again, and left me intrigued if a little underwhelmed.

Somewhere in the secluded American Northwest, a secret government enclave of Wile E. Coyote-type super-geniuses invent a plethora of crazy shit in a small town that looks and feels a little like Twin Peaks, minus the prophetic midgets, killer spirits, and damn good cherry pie.

A Federal Marshall with eye-rollingly-unnecessary family issues stumbles upon the town of Eureka in the middle of a mysterious crisis. As you might guess, he gets swept up into the town and finds himself becoming the Sheriff of a government-funded technological nuthouse.

The execution's not bad, even if the idea of a secret government facility has been ground into fine powder by now. The show has a relatively light tone and the dry humor of some of the funnier X-Files episodes of yore.

Eureka succeeds when it focuses on the bizarre and hyper-intelligent townfolk and their interactions with the Marshall. These are charming, and genuinely funny in places. The show loses steam when it enters exposition-land; something it does fairly regularly.

Eureka also elects to continue several of the hoarier tropes of serialized sci-fi: the mismatched, bickering, professional partners with an attraction to each other that's obvious to everyone but themselves. The secret government facility hidden beneath the everyday surface of things. The tacked-on "strained" emotional relationships that actually manage to be less emotional and/or affecting than the more relaxed and casual banter between townsfolk and Marshall.

One can't help but wonder what someone like Amy Sherman-Palladino (creator of the Gilmore Girls) might have done with the concept. In the hands of a creator like that, Eureka might have been a genuine quirky miracle. As it stands, it's less quirky than it really should be.

I don't watch a lot of television in general - and science-fiction television in particular is something I steer clear of. Most of it comes off as increeeeeeeeeeedibly cheesy to me. Joss Whedon's work is an obvious exception (although Mr. Whedon isn't afraid of cheese, intentional or un), and I've enjoyed what I've seen of Battlestar Galactica. The latter is especially impressive to me, dealing as it does with very contemporary, very "realistic" issues in a fantastical setting - namely the war on terror.

Other than that, though, I tend to steer clear of televised sci-fi. Especially the stuff on the Sci-Fi channel. Has one cable station ever produced so much horrendous crap? But surprisingly, Eureka isn't crap. It's kind of cute.

If you can stomach yet another reiteration of the David/Maddie, Mulder/Scully relationship and you have a tolerance for the sort of flaws this show has, you may find yourself charmed by it.

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