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THE LOST ROOM (Sci Fi)
(Monday-Wednesday at 9:00/8:00c starting December 11)
The network's description: "(from Sci Fi's press release) The Fugitive meets The Twilight Zone in this contemporary sci-fi thriller. When homicide detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause) stumbles upon a seemingly innocuous motel room key, he unlocks the door to a world of unimaginable power and becomes the target of those who will stop at nothing to claim it. The motel room is a treasure trove of seemingly mundane objects, each of which actually possesses a unique power. And as Joe soon discovers, the motel room key is the most potent and coveted object of all. Shadowy organizations dedicated to collecting these charmed objects relentlessly pursue him, hoping to claim the key. When his daughter (Elle Fanning) vanishes inside the motel room, he also becomes the focus of a heated police investigation. Hunted and alone, Joe becomes the central player in a game to which he doesn't know the rules."
What did they leave out: It's actually a backdoor pilot to a potential series.
The plot in a nutshell: Pittsburgh-based detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause) stumbles upon a bizarre crime scene in which two men were literally microwaved - murdered by a mysterious man (Roger Bart) with a red ballpoint pen (?!) during a deal for what appears to be an ordinary motel room key. One man (Jorge Pallo) however got away, thanks to a Houdini act with said key. Joe and his partner Lou (the always welcome Chris Bauer) eventually track him down and learn what the key really is - a master key that works on any door that leads to a motel room which in turn can transport you to any door in the world. But that's just the beginning, it seems this motel room was once filled with 100 or so objects, all of which have been imbibed with a special power ranging from the innocuous (a watch that can hard boil eggs) to the useful (a comb which can stop time) to the lethal (the aforementioned red ball point pen). Not surprisingly the existence of these objects have spawned a slew of people and groups dedicated to finding them, some of whom believe they can be used to communicate with God or might be God himself. There's Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollak), a millionaire collector who has the lion's share of the objects; Howard "The Weasel" Montague (Bart), a menacing hunter who thinks he's discovered the object which controls them all; and Jennifer (Julianna Margulies), an enigmatic woman who's part of a group that's trying to hide the objects from mankind.
Along the way we meet Joe's wise-beyond-her-years daughter Anna (Elle Fanning), whose mother is currently suing Joe for custody after a long absence, and a police corner (Dennis Christopher) who becomes obsessed with the objects. Now with Joe in possession of the key, he becomes the new "motel man" (the project's original title) as well as the target of all of these groups. And just when things couldn't get more complicated, Anna disappears into the motel room after being kidnapped by Montague, making the police believe Joe's the one behind her disappearance. Joe must now figure out who to trust in order to get Anna back. Night two adds a handful of new players, including Suzie Kang (Margaret Cho), an information broker about the objects; Harriet Sansom Harris as a cult leader devoted to assembling the objects; and "Everwood's" John Beasley as a man who may have ties to the objects' creation. It's here when the pieces of the room's puzzle begin to assemble, the various players reveal their true motives and Joe gets closer and closer to rescuing his daughter.
What works: While the above paragraph might read like a giant info dump, in practice it's actually easy to digest. And to its credit, a lot of the show's "rules" are discovered through some clever twists instead of the usual "tell but don't show" trap most scripts of this type fall into. Krause's character also comes off as resourceful without relying on the objects as easy to go to "deus ex machina" devices. (Just wait to see how Joe opens a safe with one of the objects in it.) The show's biggest asset however is its pacing - for once we don't have a concept too in love with itself or mysterious for mysteriousness's sake. If anything it reminds me of the workman-like mythology of the CW's underrated "Supernatural" where instead of just staring into the dark and saying "isn't it cool" the feeling is "let's quit standing around and figure out a way to stop it." (It's no coincidence "Supernatural" alum Richard Hatem is one of "The Lost Room's" executive producers.)
What doesn't: Since only the first two nights were available for review, I can't vouch for a tidy solution or even a slight revelation as to the motel room's origins. Since it's a backdoor pilot (a la 2003's "Battlestar Galactica"), I'm sure they'll be some secrets kept under wraps. Night two certainly isn't as tidy as the first, as a romance between Joe and Jennifer is shoehorned in, leading to an annoying lull between the action. There's also quite a bit of technobabblish gobbledy gook with regards to unraveling the motel room's origins, an unwelcome addition considering the first night's avoidance of it. That being said, there's still quite a bit to like in night two - including the surprising clandestine motivations of some of the players. I'll definitely be around for night three, so check out the inaugural installment and you might be there too.
The challenges ahead: Can Sci Fi break out of its mini-series slump? "The Dark Kingdom," "The Triangle," "Legend of Earthsea" and "Five Days to Midnight" were far cries from the network's amazing "Dune" mini-series and "Galactica's" opener.