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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
(Mondays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)
The network's description: "Ever wonder what life would be like if a new form of sea life began to appear in locales all over the earth? In this expansive drama, those who are about to find out include some naval officers in the South Antarctic Sea, a family in San Diego, scientists from the Oceanographic Institute in Monterey, and fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The seemingly innocent creatures they find are beautiful and kids may even want to play with them -- but is there something more to them? One thing's for sure - they're full of surprises as viewers can embark on this unfathomable journey to discover what might be lurking in the sea."
What did they leave out: The "new form of sea life" might not be native to Earth.
The plot in a nutshell: The discovery of a mysterious new sea-based life form is played out in four separate tracks: San Diego teen Miles (Carter Jenkins) stumbles across a bunch of goo-covered "eggs" after waterskiing with his friends; marine biologist Daughtery Carstarphen (Lake Bell) has a frightening experience during a deep-sea dive in Monterey; fisherman Richard Owen (Jay R. Ferguson) watches his brother get dragged away by some sort of sea creature off the Louisiana coast; and Dr. Aleksander Cirko (Rade Serbedzija) and his N.S.A.-sponsored team stumble across a missing Navy sub in Antartica, 5,000 miles off course and without its crew. From here the puzzle pieces start to assemble: Daughtery's encounter draws the attention of Dr. Cirko (and the usual government freeze out); Miles decides to take home and raise one of the eggs; and Richard heads off to South Carolina when a news report about a beached creature appears identical to the one that took his brother. It's best not to say much more than that, other than it's clear all four tracks are on their way to collide at some point.
What works: In terms of "world building" - that is introducing viewers to a bunch of locations, characters and concepts - "Surface" does an amazing job of covering a lot of ground in such a short time. Much like the pilot to last season's "Revelations," things play out more like the opening hour of a feature than a TV series. And while only two of the four main characters actually meet, there's a definitely sense that something bigger is going on and everything will tie in together.
What doesn't: Character development unfortunately takes a back seat to the plot as we aren't given much to invest in. And what is there - Daughtery is a divorced mom, Miles bickers with his sister (Leighton Meester), Richard gets a new harpoon gun from his brother, and Dr. Cirko, um, has a beard - feels more like reading the character cards on the back of action figures than something that's naturally divulged as part of the plot. Another troubling aspect is the at times borderline comical insistence to not fully show the creatures. While I get that they're supposed to be mysterious and all, there's a sequence where Miles tries to catch his newly hatched "friend" in which he literally traps it, puts it in a bathtub and stares directly at it yet we aren't even "allowed" to see more than a few flashes or silhouettes of it. There's only a certain amount of teasing one can take. That leads to the show's biggest hurdle - there's nothing here we haven't seen done in sci-fi TV and movies before. That being said - thanks mostly to its pacing and ambition - it's still an enjoyable hour of TV and only time will tell if it borders too much on the clich�s of the genre we've all come to expect.
The challenges ahead: Is the NBC audience willing to embrace a supernaturally driven show? And in what will be a quickly overpopulated genre? We'll find out this fall on NBC.