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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:
(Fridays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "THRESHOLD (Friday, 9:00 PM) stars Carla Gugino ("Sin City"), Charles S. Dutton ("Something the Lord Made"), Brian Van Holt ("House of Wax"), Robert Patrick Benedict ("Felicity") and Brent Spiner ("The Aviator") in a suspenseful drama about a team of experts who are assembled when the U.S. Navy makes a chilling discovery: an extra terrestrial craft has landed in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey (Gugino) is a government contingency analyst whose job is to devise response plans for worst-case scenarios. When her plan called THRESHOLD is activated upon the news of the UFO, she and her hand-picked team of eclectic specialists get to work deciphering the intention of the craft and preparing for the possibility of a crisis situation -- an alien invasion."
What did they leave out: Peter Dinklage guest starred in the pilot as one of the experts on Dr. Caffrey's team. Presumably since his ABC comedy pilot "Testing Bob" didn't go forward he'll be free to stick around as a regular.
The plot in a nutshell: Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, a cargo freighter makes a startling discovery as it crosses paths with what appears to be an extra-terrestrial craft (think the spaceship in Richard Donner's "Superman" crossed with the shape-changing "yes/no" bit from "Tron" - how's that for a reference?). Soon enough a piercing sound and a white light washes over the crew - giving nosebleeds for everyone no less - as we cut to Washington, where government contingency analyst Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey (Carla Gugino) has been called in by the Feds (or more specifically Charles S. Dutton) to get her bead on the situation. It seems she has the talent for writing response scenarios to various outlandish situations, including alien invasions. They'll need her help as Baylock (Dutton) and co. have found the freighter, which is now full of disfigured, murdered bodies and is missing several crew members. He asks her to assemble a team of scientists (basically a "geek squad" which includes a sardonic Brent Spiner, a womanizing Peter Dinklage and a neurotic Robert Patrick Benedict) and join square-jawed military man Cavennaugh (Brian Van Holt) in analyzing what happened. It's not long then before they stumble upon a survivor (William Mapother, continuing his string of creepy roles) and a videotape of the spaceship encounter. Much to their surprise, playing the tape reproduces the effects of the freighter's first encounter - including the piercing sound and resulting nosebleeds. Thankfully they stop the tape before things get too ugly and - thanks to the miracle of technobabble - discover that the sound is actually a transmission designed to alter human DNA (which in turn apparently makes us freak out and start killing people) for some unspecified reason. Not willing to take any chances, the government opts to destroy the freighter rather to risk any further exposure, but not before (insert dum, dum, dum noise here) William Mapother's character manages to escape.
What works: For what it's worth, Spiner, Dinklage and Benedict are the best part of the show despite playing your typical "scientist/geek" roles. Dinklage in particular stands out as the disgruntled Arthur Ramsey, who only joins the team after being threatened by Cavennaugh. As for the rest of the cast, they're likeable enough however none of them can escape the predictable, half-baked plot or their vanilla characterizations.
What doesn't: If anything "Threshold" feels like your average Saturday night B-movie on the Sci Fi Channel, except with better casting (Carla Gugino instead of Stacy Haiduk, Brian Van Holt instead of David Keith, etc. - you get the picture). Coincidentally enough, there was a 2003 Sci Fi Channel original also entitled "Threshold" which the network's press materials described as: "An astronaut returns to Earth, unknowingly carrying the DNA of an insectoid extraterrestrial life � which soon infects others, turning them monstrous. When their numbers reach threshold, they will swarm ... and you will either live in fear, or be the fear. Nicholas Lea (The X-Files) and Jamie Luner (Profiler) star." Basically, it's not exactly a ringing endorsement when a Sci Fi Channel Saturday original beat you to the punch with such similarly hokey material (except the infected people don't turn into bugs). In terms of execution, it's equally as predictable as you can see all the twists coming, including the fade out "surprise" which comes off as eye-rolling instead of shocking. And in terms of characterization, we're given few windows into each character's lives except for Dr. Caffrey who because of her hectic work schedule is (brace yourself) prone to eating meals alone with her dog. Overall, there's nothing here you haven't seen before and done much better elsewhere. Out of all the supernatural newcomers this season, "Threshold" is by far the worst.
The challenges ahead: Will CBS viewers - who are used crime dramas and family sitcoms - embrace a show in the sci-fi/supernatural genre? And one as bad as "Threshold" no less? We'll find out next month on CBS.