[07/05/07 - 01:38 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Them" (FOX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.

And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

(pilot not ordered to series)

The network's description: "Executive producers Jonathan Mostow ("Breakdown," "Terminator 3"), David Eick ("Battlestar Galactica") and John McNamara ("Profit," "Eyes") deliver THEM, a revolutionary new drama about a sleeper cell operating in the everyday environs of modern-day Los Angeles a sleeper cell from another world. They might be the friendly new neighbors next door or the office workers carpooling alongside you on the freeway. But they are nothing like us. They arrive emotionless, follow orders without question, and none of them knows the true nature of their mission on Earth. What a few of them do know, however, is that something unexpected has happened: Our emotions affect them like a dangerous, uncontrollable virus. Once indulged, any feelings they have toward us can suddenly shatter their carefully codified order. CAIN JOHNSON (James D'Arcy, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World") is the cell's vigilant, determined Enforcer, tasked with investigating agents who "go rogue." A new arrival, he struggles to understand our strange human ways, such as why we give each other dead foliage to express tenderness. When cell agent Adam Bridges betrays his own kind because of his love for a human woman, Cain is ordered to hunt him down. In the process, while learning more about his prey and, eventually, himself, Cain begins to question the true purpose of his cell's mysterious mission on Earth is it one of mercy, or domination? And what role does he actually play in it? EZEKIAL SMITS (Reg Rogers, "Runaway Bride") is the cell's Assimilator, a kind of bureaucratic shrink who orients new arrivals to this world, then monitors their progress and reports anyone he deems "unstable." Yet he himself has a secret addiction. An officious, volatile taskmaster, Smits is also responsible for naming each new agent as he or she assumes human form. For inspiration, he draws from two of this planet's most enduring publications: the Bible and TV Guide. URIAH SELLECK (Steve Toussaint, "The Knock"/UK), the silkily domineering Sector Chief, rules by fear and intimidation. The ambitious TARA SPADER (Freya Stafford, "White Collar Blue"/Australia) is in charge of media disinformation; she'll follow any order Uriah gives, as long as it assures her advancement within the cell. Naomi Tyler Moore is Tara's counterpart and total opposite, as seductive as she is free-spirited, using her powerful sexuality to gather information on unsuspecting human males. But as Cain soon learns, humans aren't the only ones vulnerable to Naomi's appeal. Meanwhile, DONNA SHAW (Rachel Nichols, "Alias"), the ordinary human woman with whom Adam has fallen in love as has her friend FLOYD GRUNWALD (Ben Feldman, "Living with Fran") triggers a deadly manhunt when it appears she might be the key to the cell's overall mission. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, this CBS Paramount Network Television and Circle of Confusion production is a mind-bending thriller about the collision of love, loyalty, fear, betrayal and what it means to be truly human."

What did they leave out: It's loosely based on the graphic novel "Six" by Daniel Berman and Michael Oeming.

The plot in a nutshell: "It's a planet on the brink of annihilation," Cain Johnson (James D'Arcy) tells us about Earth in the opening narration. "We're here to save them. But something's wrong. Something we never expected." You see Cain is a member of an alien sleeper cell, the exact purpose of which is unknown to even the members themselves other than they're here "to help." And so here on Earth they wait, their mystical auras trapped inside of human bodies awaiting orders from above. In the meantime, each member of the cell is given a specific role. The straight-laced Cain is the "enforcer," tasked with keeping his fellow cell members in line should the need arise. His current problem is Adam Bridges (Callard Harris), their engineer, who's showing signs of "possible infection." That infection: emotion. It seems by taking on human bodies the aliens have made themselves susceptible to emotion, which affects them like a drug - a little and you get high, too much and you go insane. In Adam's case he's fallen in love with an Earth girl named Donna Shaw (Rachel Nichols), causing him go off the deep end. He's decided to take the local news station hostage and tell the world about their alien cabal. Thankfully the station is run by Tara Spader (Freya Stafford), the cell's media disinformation officer. She, along with Cain, manage to get a handle on the situation, but not before Adam escapes, planting a few doubts in Cain's mind about what's really going on in the process. Further complicating matters is Cain himself is beginning to show signs of emotion, such as not being able to take his eyes off Naomi Tyler Moore (Tricia Helfer, looking as gorgeous as ever), their "infiltrator." Her job is to get to know as much as possible about human emotion, a fact that both intrigues and concerns Cain. Also thrown into the mix is Ezekial Smits (Reg Rogers), the cell's de facto psychologist, who tells Cain to treat emotion like a virus - let enough in to develop an immunity to it. (In Ezekial's case, he can't get enough of Earth's cuisine, more specifically its pies.) Lastly there's Uriah Selleck (Steve Toussaint), their newly arrived section leader, who's there to help clean up the mess Adam started and put their current mission - which involves smuggling a device into the Orbital Weapons Research area of the Aerospace Propulsion Labortory - back on track. Meanwhile, Cain searches for answers about Adam from Donna, exposing himself as an alien in the process, and gives into his feelings for Naomi. This inevitably leads to a final showdown with Adam, which leaves two members of the cell dead and Cain's world changed forever.

What works: Much like "New Amsterdam," there's a bunch of little details that give the show a nice flair - upon arrival via the mysterious "doorway" the aliens select their first name from the Bible and their last name from TV Guide; Naomi enjoys her chocolate cake with mustard on top because "it's all going to the same place"; and the aliens, despite their bodies being hardwired with the bulk of human knowledge (plus a self-destruction sequence if they're exposed), struggle to understand simple idioms. The real charm of the show however is it's surprisingly clever twist on the sleeper cell concept. Nearly all of the members genuinely believe they are doing good ("I think we're angels," Naomi muses), unbeknownst to the fact their seemingly innocuous actions (getting a picture of a drunken man, purposely running into a stranger) are actually combining to potentially do something nefarious. It's a clever twist that seems ripe for exploration, even if only for the obvious "terrorism" parallels. James D'Arcy's character also proves to be an interesting mix of Jeff Bridges from "Starman" - naive, thoughtful and sweet - and Guy Pearce's from "L.A. Confidential" - inflexible, by the book and self-righteous. Furthermore, his "stranger in a strange land" narration - in which he muses on everything from life, death, the legal system and religion - thankfully isn't layered with cheese, a rarity for the often overused technique. It's also fun to watch him, despite his skill and talent, be disarmed by the simplest things - such as when Naomi asks him what his favorite song is or when a little girl tells him "you're stupid" after he asks her why she prays to painted murals on a church ceiling. Overall, there's just so much interesting stuff going on here and so many ripe avenues to explore one can't help but be disappointed this (so far) hasn't made the cut.

What doesn't: Nothing really jumps to mind. "Them" has to be FOX's best drama pilot since "Prison Break."

The bottom line: Here's hoping it eventually makes its way to FOX's schedule.

  [july 2007]  


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