Tag Archives: NBC

Anemic ‘Dracula’ needs transfusion of scariness

Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars in "Dracula" on NBC.

Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) dallies with Lady Jane (Victoria Smurfit)


Since its publication in 1897, Bram Stoker’s masterful gothic thriller Dracula has inspired several films (ranging from the ‘30s classic with Bela Lugosi to a slapstick farce from Mel Brooks), multiple stage adaptations, a musical, a TV miniseries and several TV movies, and even a ballet. I’m pretty sure, however, that NBC’s new series adaptation, which premieres tonight, is the first time Dracula bas been turned into a sleep aid.
This muddled new show opens in 1881 Romania, as two shadowy figures break into Dracula’s crypt and reanimate his dessicated corpse via a blood sacrifice. The old bloodsucker cleans up very well, in the form of Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Here’s where things start to get confusing, though. Somehow we’ve flashed forward a decade or so to London, where Dracula is passing himself off as an American industrialist called Alexander Grayson. He’s ostensibly in the British capital to drum up financial support for his new wireless electrical technology that will brighten the London nights. His real motive, however, is to take down many of the city’s wealthy movers and shakers, who are members of an ancient and deadly secret society that cursed Dracula with his plasma-craving immortality centuries ago, a project in which he finds a very unexpected ally.
Dracula’s attention is divided, moreover, after he encounters Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), a lovely medical student who immediately fascinates Dracula with her uncanny resemblance to his long-lost wife. The vampire resolves to have Mina for himself, despite her engagement to Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a handsome but somewhat oafish young journalist. At odds with both these suitors is Mina’s best friend, Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath), whose devotion to Mina appears to go well beyond the sisterly.
I haven’t even gotten into the medical experiments Dracula is underwriting with an eye to getting over his fatal aversion to sunlight, but it should already be obvious that series creator Cole Haddon is heavily reimagining Stoker’s sturdy original thriller, to dubious ends. Tonight’s premiere is a sluggish hour in which I spent most of my time just trying to figure out what was going on and who each of the many, many unfamiliar characters was in relation to the people around him or her. Mina and her young friends are shallow and not very interesting, while Dracula’s minion, Renfield, has morphed from a gibbering, pasty-faced, bug-ingesting madman into a strapping and well-spoken black lawyer (Nonso Anozie) who is both faithful companion and confidant to Dracula.
The most interesting character, for my money, in this new series is Lady Jayne (Victoria Smurfit), a Victorian Buffy the Vampire Slayer who dashes through the night in sexy steampunk outfits dispatching Nosferatu, as she calls Dracula’s ilk. (She has fabricated the serial killer Jack the Ripper, we learn, to explain the mangled human bodies left by vampire attacks).
After watching all five of the preview episodes NBC helpfully sent out for review, eventually I started to untangle the snarled threads of this complicated narrative and to find parts that are fairly compelling. Getting there, however, means slogging through lots of very tedious scenes, although on the whole, the series looks as expensive as it reportedly is.
I also am still looking for someone to root for. The show seems to be trying to make Dracula into a tragic hero, and Rhys Meyers is very charismatic in the title role, despite a distracting free-range American accent. Yet while Dracula’s main adversaries are truly terrible men, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Dracula seems to have no compunction about murdering both guilty and innocent alike if it suits his purposes. And sadly, as noted above, most of the more conventionally heroic characters are dull and colorless.
Worst of all, this series is simply not very scary, which is kind of the minimum I expect from a show called Dracula. I’m not encouraged that the showrunner and head writer is Daniel Knauf, who created a supernatural-themed HBO series called Carnivale about a decade ago. That series started out with tremendous promise before it got lost in its own murky mythology, sluggish pacing and mostly unsympathetic characters. I wish I could say I don’t foresee history repeating itself, but as tonight’s premiere episode reveals, this bloodless Dracula just doesn’t have a lot of dramatic bite.
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Missing the write stuff

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Will Arnett and Margo Martindale (dancing center)
Three fairly high-profile network series premiere tonight, two on NBC, one on CBS. All three have some amazing actors in their casts, and all three are criminally let down by their writers.
My hopes probably are highest for The Millers, premiering tonight on CBS in the coveted time slot following The Big Bang Theory, partly because this new comedy, which is filmed in front of a studio audience, is the brainchild of Greg Garcia, who recently has given us such winning shows as My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope.
The Millers is far more old-fashioned than either of those two quirky hits, though. Emmy winners Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale star as Tom and Carol Miller, a long-married and eternally bickering couple who decide to move in with their daughter, Debbie (Jayma Mays, Glee) after Tom inadvertently floods their basement. Again. Hardly have they arrived, however, before long-simmering resentments reach the boiling point and Tom and Carol decide to end their 43-year marriage, with her moving into the upscale home of their son, Nathan (Will Arnett), who’s currently working as a roving correspondent for a local TV station.
What Nathan, the golden boy of the family, hasn’t told his parents is that he and his wife (Eliza Coupe of Happy Endings in a recurring role) divorced three months ago. Carol initially is horrified by the news, but soon starts trying to resume her long-ago role as the most important woman in Nathan’s life, which means ignoring boundaries at every turn (she clips Nathan’s toenails while he’s asleep and discusses her and Tom’s sex life with upsetting explicitness).
This isn’t a bad set-up for a sitcom, but in tonight’s premiere episode, the jokes are mainly broad and fairly vulgar. Martindale has been on a career hot streak lately, recently scoring another Emmy nomination for her striking guest role in the FX thriller The Americans, but here she is reduced to an extended string of jokes about her character’s tendency to pass gas on a regular basis. Bridges’ role is even more one-note: See Tom fumbling with the coffee maker and microwave and appear perpetually confused by the household’s remote controls! Ha!
Garcia is a funny, funny man who writes brilliantly about dysfunctional families, so I’m hopeful he’s going to give his strong cast the kind of material they deserve in future episodes. Fingers crossed.
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The same thing goes for Sean Saves the World, Emmy winner Sean Hayes’ new NBC sitcom premiering tonight opposite CBS’s Robin Williams comedy The Crazy Ones, last week’s top-rated comedy premiere. Like The Millers, Sean Saves the World is filmed in front of a studio audience and has a strong cast, including sitcom veteran Linda Laviin (Alice) and Smash survivor Megan Hilty, as well as Reno 911! madman Thomas Lennon. Tonight’s premiere, however, feels tired and old-fashioned (Hayes also is an executive producer on the decidedly old-fashioned but frisky Hot in Cleveland).
In his new show, Hayes stars as a divorced gay dad who recently assumed fulltime custody of his teenage daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler). Now that Sean’s former wife no longer is in the picture, his formidable mother, Lorna (Lavin), is trying to swoop in and fill the maternal vacancy, to the pronounced displeasure of Sean’s best friend, Liz (Hilty). Sean’s attempts to be the perfect dad, though, are compromised by his demanding new boss (Lennon), a smothering, hands-on type who wants his staff to have as little of a social life as he does.
The comedy pros in the cast make quite a few of the tired jokes in tonight’s premiere sound, if not fresh, at least less wilted, but it’s discouraging to see such a heavy reliance on uninspired slapstick in the very first episode. I like the show’s main quartet enough that I’ll be sticking around for awhile, but this cast deserves much better. That said, I do think my many colleagues who have put Sean Saves the World on their lists of the fall’s worst shows are going a little far. Sean won’t even save NBC, let alone the world, but it’s not a crime against nature.
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Nor is tonight’s other NBC premiere, Welcome to the Family, although it’s far and away the worst of the three. The lone single-camera (no laugh track) series among this trio, this sitcom stars the usually endearing Mike O’Malley (Glee) and, especially, Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight) as Dr. Dan and Caroline Yoder, who are enthusiastically looking forward to their imminent empty nest situation now that beautiful but dim daughter Molly (Ella Rae Peck) has defied all expectations and actually graduated from high school.
Plans to ship Molly off to a party school are derailed, however, when the Yoders discover that Molly is pregnant by a boyfriend they didn’t even know existed: Junior Hernandez (Joey Haro), a Stanford-bound Mathlete and class valedictorian. The pregnancy horrifies his proud father, Miguel (Ricardo Chavira, Desperate Housewives), especially after Miguel discovers that Molly’s dad is the jerk he clashed with that same morning at Miguel’s gym (in a contrived argument that’s only there so these two characters can hold a grudge against each other). Junior’s mom, Lisette (Justina Machado, Six Feet Under), like Caroline, tries to act as peacemaker in this volatile situation.
Anyone who has been watching TV for awhile will recognize the exhausted premise for this show, which stretches all the way back to the 1967-70 sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie, which was based in turn on a 1920s play called Abie’s Irish Rose. I wish I could report that Welcome to the Family reinvents that heavily diluted formula, but sadly, that’s not the case: The show just kind of plods along on its thrice-familiar path, dutifully ticking off scenes that we’ve seen so many times before. Even a fade-out “surprise” for Caroline at the end of tonight’s episode is something you’ll probably see coming a mile off.
I really want O’Malley and McCormack to figure out a way to turn this seemingly ill-fated vehicle around, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. Unless the writers can come up with some fresh ideas and jokes, this Family won’t be overstaying its welcome.

A rusty reboot

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Blair Underwood
Tonight NBC rolls out its very creaky reboot of Ironside, the 1967-75 NBC police drama that originally starred Emmy winner Raymond Burr as wheelchair-bound New York Police Detective Robert Ironside. It just may be the most baffling programming decision of the new fall season.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the original ended its run. That’s roughly two generations in TV audience terms and I doubt there has been any great groundswell of grassroots support for revisiting what always was a fairly unremarkable cop drama.
This new remake is far worse, a cliché-filled hour packed with stock characters and hammy acting. The usually reliable Blair Underwood takes the Burr role, which has been refashioned into a Serpico-like cop who isn’t afraid to break some rules to get the job done. I threw up in my mouth a little as I typed those last words, but sadly, they’re accurate.
Ironside has been confined to a wheelchair since he was nearly killed in a bust that went horribly wrong, an accident for which his former partner, Gary (Brent Sexton, The Killing), blames himself. Their now-tense relationship is the most interesting thing about tonight’s premiere, at least until it takes a turn for the weepy in the final moments of the episode.
Elsewhere, this “new” Ironside piles one trite police-show convention on top of another so relentlessly that you’ll get a headache from rolling your eyes so often. For the record, Ironside’s quirky team includes Pablo Schreiber, recently seen terrorizing Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and sexually harassing the inmates as Pornstache in the awesome Netflix prison drama Orange Is the New Black; Neal Bledsoe, who played Tom’s closeted Republican boyfriend in season one of Smash; and the usually charming Greek alumna Spencer Grammer, who just looks lost here.
Frankly, I don’t know how anyone could get lost in this show, because there’s not a moment anywhere that doesn’t seem painfully familiar.
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Mike vs. Mork

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Tonight’s TV lineup is packed with the return of such hits as The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation and Elementary, but it’s the return to series TV of two A-list stars, Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams, that’s the most noteworthy. Their respective sitcoms, NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show and The Crazy Ones on CBS, both show a lot of promise, but NBC’s decision to launch Fox’s series with two back-to-back episodes means that, tonight only, the two shows are time-slot rivals at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
CBS is giving The Crazy Ones a dream lead-in with a double episode of The Big Bang Theory, but even so, I suspect The Michael J. Fox Show may very well win tonight’s face-off. While a lot of people probably assumed Fox’s career was pretty much over when he went public with his status as a Parkinson’s disease sufferer in 1999, he has rebounded in recent years via his very popular (and Emmy-nominated) recurring comic role on The Good Wife as Louis Canning, a Parkinson’s-afflicted attorney who aggressively exploits his disability to score courtroom points.
Fox and the creators of his NBC sitcom have taken a page from that same playbook for his role as Mike Henry, who was a beloved presence on the New York TV news scene before a Parkinson’s diagnosis led him to retire five years ago to spend more time with his schoolteacher wife, Annie (Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad), and their three kids.
Since Mike left, ratings at his old station have steadily fallen, and his former boss, Harris (Wendell Pierce, Treme) is begging him to return to work. Mike’s understandably reluctant, however.
“I don’t want a pity job,” he tells Harris. “We both know that if I come back, NBC is going to milk it by showing me in slow motion with lame, uplifting music in the background.”
Eventually, of course, Mike decides to accept Harris’ offer, setting up the show’s split focus between family life and workplace. It’s a solid set-up. I just wish it were funnier.
You can’t blame the cast for that. Mike and Annie’s three kids may be standard sitcom issue, but in addition to Brandt and Pierce, clearly relishing this chance to show off their comedy chops after years of intensity on their respective drama projects, the show also co-stars two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran as Leigh, Mike’s comically neurotic younger sister, with recurring roles for Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin (as Mike’s parents) and Anne Heche as Susan, Mike’s bitchy anchor rival at the station.
Nope, the problem, as usual, is the writing. Fox and Brandt have a wonderful, sexy chemistry together, so they can make even underwritten moments seem funny just because they feel so true. Otherwise, though, the story lines seem sitcom-stale. Mike develops a crush on a pretty upstairs neighbor (guest star Tracy Pollan, Fox’s real-life wife and former Family Ties co-star). Teenage daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia) tries to up her hipness by befriending a lesbian. Hypersensitive Leigh pressures Annie for her opinion on Mane Attraction, a ghastly teen novel Leigh has written about a boy who turns into a horse at night. (OK, that last one is pretty funny.)
The writers compound the problem by falling back on the tired mockumentary device of making Eve a vlogger, so she’s constantly taping the other characters, allowing them to talk directly to the camera. What once seemed fresh in a single-camera sitcom like this one now just feels more like lazy writing.
Despite that, The Michael J. Fox Show has done so many things right that it’s impossible not to hope the show will grow into a bona fide comedy hit. NBC certainly could use one, but then, so could we.
The Crazy Ones, on the other hand, is a much harder show to call. The sitcom, from executive producer David E. Kelley, stars Emmy and Oscar winner Williams as Simon Roberts, a former advertising wunderkind who is starting to doubt himself now that he’s reached AARP member status. His no-nonsense daughter and creative director, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), worries about him, and, in tonight’s premiere, the future of their company: McDonald’s, which represents 60 percent of their business, is leaning toward going to another agency.
Simon’s only hope is to land a major talent to star in a series of new ads, but when he and his handsome protégé, Zach (James Wolk, Mad Men), pitch singer Kelly Clarkson on the prospect, she agrees to consider it only if they’ll tailor it to the sexy new image she’s trying to cultivate.
“So we just need to come up with a meat-related sex song,” Zach sums up.
“…for a family restaurant,” Simon adds. “How hard could that be, really? It almost writes itself!”
The two men then launch into what such a song might sound like. This heavily improvised scene is comedy gold, with Wolk (who knew this guy could be so funny?) and Williams riffing seamlessly like longtime improv partners.
Given that each episode will feature a different real-world client (and, presumably, a name guest star playing himself), it’s hard to imagine what this show will look and feel like on a week-to-week basis, especially because Clarkson, I have to say, absolutely throws herself into her guest role, scoring her own big laughs and, I suspect, launching a credible acting career, if she chooses.
Then again, Simon’s motto, often referenced in tonight’s pilot, is “Leap and the net shall appear.” After years of watching him work without a net, I’m inclined to give Williams the benefit of the doubt, but mark my words, if this show becomes a hit, it’s Wolk who’s going to be red-hot and superstar-ready.
The Crazy Ones may take a ratings hit on its first outing tonight, if The Michael J. Fox Show opens as strongly as I expect it to, but next week Crazy will be up against the premiere of Sean Hayes’ weaker new sitcom, Sean Saves the World. It’ll be interesting to see how this Thursday-night network rivalry eventually shakes out.
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James Wolk

NBC’s ‘Blacklist’ should make the hit list

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Megan Boone and James Spader
Tonight at 10 p.m., NBC and CBS face off with rival, high-profile suspense dramas. Of the two shows, the better one by far is on – I cannot believe I am writing this – NBC.
That’s right. The Peacock Network, which has had a dismal time when it comes to launching new hits in recent seasons, has a potential game-changer in The Blacklist, a new action thriller that marks the very welcome return of three-time Emmy winner James Spader to series television. It’s not only the best drama NBC has fielded in a long time. It’s also one of the best shows of the new fall TV season.
As the series opens, fresh-faced Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (newcomer Megan Broome) is heading off to start her first day as an FBI profiler in the agency’s headquarters when she and her bookish husband (Ryan Eggold) are startled to see a helicopter and several unmarked cars swarming their building. Liz is spirited away to a classified location, where FBI Assistant Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) drops a bombshell: Raymond Reddington (Spader), a fugitive at the top of the 10 Most Wanted list, has just walked into the Washington, D.C., headquarters and surrendered. He has a proposal for the FBI, but only if he can talk to her. Liz is baffled. She and Reddington never have met before, nor do they have any personal connection she knows of, yet in their very first meeting, he freaks her out with intimate knowledge of both her and her family, stuff that not even the FBI knows about her. More important, though, he tells her that a dangerous Serbian terrorist has entered the country intent on settling an old score with a highly ranked Pentagon official. A little girl’s life hangs in the balance, and he wants to help Liz stop this potential catastrophe.
Tonight’s pilot episode is a tense hour that follows Liz and her colleagues as she tries to stop the terrorist from carrying out his plot, but more than that, it sets up the big questions at the heart of the show: Why is Reddington obsessed with Liz? What does he want with her? How can she keep her surprisingly dangerous new job from upsetting her life with her new husband, who is intent on adopting a child?
The psychological connection between Reddington and Liz obviously echoes the eerie relationship between Agent Clarice Starling and mad genius Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, seasoned with the fascinating ambiguities that Alias used to do so well. The Blacklist doesn’t feel like recycled goods, however. It just reflects the work of a creative team that knows how and when to borrow from the best.
I’ll leave the show’s many other surprises for you to discover on your own, but let me just close by reporting that Spader’s work in this show just may be the best performance of his career. It’s scary, sly, charming, diabolical and very funny. It would be a huge mistake to miss him, and this very promising new series.
CBS’ new Hostages, on the other hand, set off my Hogwash Detector within the first five minutes, as I watched sharp-jawed FBI Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) shoot and kill a bank robber disguised as a hostage after Duncan noticed – from a distance of 40 yards or more – that the bad guy’s shoes didn’t match his suit. Clearly he discarded the notion that he was merely looking at an innocent hostage with no fashion sense. A relatively minor style misstep and Duncan (correctly, if inexplicably) pegs this stranger as being worthy of multiple bullets to the chest.
That early scene actually has nothing to do (I think) with the main story, which revolves principally around Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), a gifted surgeon at fictional Maryland College Hospital who has been selected (for what turn out to be crass political reasons) to remove a suspicious lump from the lung of the American president (James Naughton). Ellen is honored but not terribly intimidated by the assignment. After all, it’s a routine procedure.
Or at least it was until Ellen returns on the eve of the surgery to the posh suburban home she shares with hubby Brian (Tate Donovan) and their two teenage kids. Ellen doesn’t know that her magazine-ready life is concealing a lot of secrets. Brian’s business is failing, and he’s involved in an extramarital affair. Daughter Morgan (Quinn Shephard) has just discovered she’s pregnant by the secret boyfriend she sneaks out each night to see, and clean-cut son Jake (Mateus Ward) is seriously in debt to a dangerous drug dealer.
As if all that’s not enough, Ellen comes downstairs after a pre-dinner shower to find a home invasion in progress, with her family held at gunpoint by four persons wearing ski masks. Their leader pulls Ellen aside to deliver an ultimatum: The intruders will kill Ellen’s family unless she takes steps to ensure that the president dies on the operating table the next morning.
I’m going to stop this recap of the pilot here in the interest of avoiding spoilers. I won’t even reveal how Duncan and Ellen’s story lines intersect. I will say, however, that, even though CBS is describing Hostages as a “limited series,” I frankly see no way the show will be able credibly to stretch out this situation over several weeks.
Then again, given that scene with Duncan and the bank robber, apparently credibility isn’t going to be a huge component of this show (which, for what it’s worth, is beautifully filmed and directed).
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Toni Collette, Mateus Ward, Tate Donovan and Quinn Shephard (seated from left)

Lady and the ‘Camp’

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NBC’s Summer of Whatever – a decidedly wacky season during which programming decisions apparently are being made by Magic 8 Ball – continues tonight with the premiere of Camp, a lighter-than-air scripted series starring Rachel Griffiths of Brothers & Sisters as a recent divorcee struggling to keep her once-popular summer camp open in the face of some decidedly upscale competition.
Located in an unspecified part of the American boonies, Little Otter Family Camp, run by Mackenzie Granger (Griffiths) and her husband, Steve (Jonathan LaPaglia), once packed in a loyal summer clientele, thanks largely to Mac’s creative programming schedule that included themed activities such as Circus Day and Disco Night, geared to appeal to both young people and, in some cases, their parents.
Now, however, Steve has baled on the marriage in favor of a much younger Russian cosmetologist, and Little Otter, like the 40-something Mac, is showing signs of wear. The camp’s septic system is starting to emit some rancid odors, the raccoons have chewed through the wiring in the sound system and Ridgefield Lodge, a swanky venture located directly across the lake, has started to siphon away clients. More than anything, though, Mac frets that the divorce is taking a toll on her teenage son, Buzz (Charles Grounds), a counselor in training.
Buzz, meanwhile, is actually focused exclusively on what almost any older teenage male in a summer-camp story would obsess over: losing his virginity. That may be a challenge, since the only pretty camper who will give him the time of day – Grace (Charlotte Nicdao), a wryly funny Asian adoptee – has two gay dads who have filled her with self-esteem, so she’s not going to be a pushover.
The other counselors in training include Kip Wampler (Thom Green), a low-key guy who is keeping a personal secret and doesn’t want to be at Little Otter in the first place, until he falls for Marina Sullivan (Lily Sullivan), who is still trying to live down a high school scandal involving a provocative photo she once texted to a boyfriend.
Don’t think the kids are getting all the action, though. Although Mac may often worry that she’s past her expiration date, she spends some nights having hate-sex with frenemy Roger Shepard (Rodger Corser), the arrogant but indisputably hot owner of Ridgefield, who wants to buy Little Otter. She’s also being pursued by her devoted and much younger camp handyman, Cole (Nikolai Nikolaeff), who sees that Mac is selling herself short.
I wasn’t especially impressed with tonight’s premiere episode of Camp, which feels pretty generic, so much so that I kept having a very hard time keeping the younger characters and their relationships straight, since they seemed to kind of bleed into each other. NBC wisely sent out three episodes for review, however, and I can report that most of the principal characters take on much more definition as the series progresses.
Of course, the show’s biggest ace in the hole is Griffith, an actress so warm and persuasive that you’ll find yourself becoming invested in her character even before you realize it. That said, Camp is the kind of lightweight dramedy you find yourself forgetting even as you’re watching it – which, in a way, is one of the things that makes it kind of perfect summer entertainment.
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NBC’s ‘Siberia’ interesting, but probably doomed

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No one, including NBC, seems to be taking any pains to conceal the fact that Siberia – the new summer series the Peacock Network is premiering tonight while you’re busy watching Under the Dome over on CBS – is not what it first appears to be.
The first moments look like the opening credits of every Survivor reality TV clone you’ve ever seen, from the propulsive, adrenalized theme music to the swooping camera movements to the cast of 16 contestants who have assembled to compete for half a million dollars in a “last person standing” endurance-fest. As their host, Los Angeles radio personality Jonathon Buckley, blandly explains to them as they are dropped off in a particularly rugged part of the Siberian wilderness, the competitors are tasked with surviving in this inhospitable environment with only the clothes on their backs. Their first challenge? Find an old settlement two miles away that will provide them with shelter.
As the pack rushes, sometimes clumsily, along a flag-marked path, we start to recognize some of the “types” making up the players: Johnny, the alpha male who looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model; Daniel, a nerdy computer geek who quickly manages to injure himself; Berglind, an imposing Scandinavian beauty; Esther, a scheming model who looks a bit like Elizabeth Hurley; and Sam, the grizzled old-timer who gets even grumpier when he doesn’t eat regularly.
For the first half of the show or so, everything plays out just as you might expect, as the players start breaking up into smaller groups and informally forming alliances, as well as having clashes that identify natural adversaries. Just a little bit later, however, something unexpected, unexplained and terrible happens and soon we realize we’ve been had: Siberia isn’t a reality show competition at all, merely a very artful simulation of that well-worn genre. What we’re watching instead is a scripted series with unrecognizable actors in what is part psychological drama, part outright horror tale – and based on the season previews at the end of the premiere, things are going to get very, very creepy in weeks to come.
As noted above, the premiere episode is very well executed, although if you watch it a second time, you may notice odd little details here and there that seem a little “off” for a standard reality series. It’s an interesting enough premise that I wish NBC hadn’t consigned the show to this prime-time gulag opposite CBS’s Stephen King hit that already has become a water-cooler show for many viewers.
Then again, perhaps Siberia was doomed from the get-go. Effective horror depends on building a steadily escalating sense of dread, which is hard to sustain when you’re rolling out your story in weekly increments. Remember ABC’s ill-fated The River? Like Siberia, that show used docu-style camerawork to evoke an unsettling you-are-there atmosphere, but while The River started out grippingly, ratings began to fall off during the course of the show. I’m left wondering whether the audience that tunes in for tonight’s premiere of Siberia will last even as long as the unlucky contestants on its show-within-a-show.