Tonight is the third installment in the new NBC show “The Event”. The show is promoted as a cross between 24 and Lost, even going so far as calling it the shows’ “baby”. This prompted a lot of hype before the premiere, much of it undeserved.
Part of my problem with the first episode was that I already figured out the premise before watching it (partly due to NBC’s marketing) – that the series will involve aliens, a conspiracy theory, and a kidnapping. If I hadn’t known that, the final minute of that premiere would have been far better, with the ominous line “I haven’t told you everything.” Even still, billing a show as three different genres (criminal, political, science-fictional) is tough, and can lend to an overly complex cast and story that could be hard to follow.
Which is probably why the next biggest weakness is the show’s decision to spend an inordanate amount of time focused on the romantic fool, his girlfriend, and the misleading attempted hijacking. Yes, I’m sure there’s a point to the kidnapping beyond a motivation for the true hijacking that will eventually be made clear. So far, though, the whole story line involving Jason Ritter seems tangential, a poor attempt at selective characterization and bide time between act breaks and the episode cliffhangers. Not to mention Ritter’s a poor actor, wasting painfully long minutes acting foolish or emoting like a high school drama student.
Poor characterization is part in parcel with this show’s premise, however. Despite two hours thus far in, we still don’t know much about anyone except Ritter, and could honestly care less about most of them. In fact, I’m willing to bet the casting for the President (Blair Underwood) was done to suggest an Obama-like character, so as to avoid spending any time letting us get to know him. And it’s a convenient fact that the aliens are 99% like humans, look like humans, and seem as vulnerable to imprisonment as anyone else, allowing us to remain confused as to who is an alien and who is not. (Unless of course you buy the secondary theory that these aren’t aliens but in fact some futuristic time-traveling humans.)
The best selling point for the show is its handling of suspense. The show knows how to keep you guessing, keeping you wondering what the hell is going on. But there’s little there there, even after you get the answers you can almost guess yourself. Yet, they strategically spread the suspense and plot twists apart through an overzealous use of flashbacks to multiple time periods.
As an aspiring screenwriter whose first scripts also involve flashbacks, I was intrigued to see a show on the air invest so much in that device. Unfortunately, the flashbacks jump to different periods of time for little reason than to expand upon a plot point raised in the present, rarely giving us any genuinely new information, but more often making a subtle point that can be inferred instead much more explicit. Unlike my own work with flashbacks, there’s nothing connecting the flashbacks themselves, and they are little more than expository tangents used to eat up time between act breaks.
I’m probably being overly harsh on The Event. I’m still going to give it at least a third viewing (after giving the more-poorly written V remake four chances, The Event deserves as much). But the series needs to start making better use of its hourly episodes, rather than bidding its time until the next moment of suspense – we need to learn more about what’s going on and who is involved than we’ve gotten so far, otherwise it may suffer the same fate as FlashForward.
The Event is a complex thriller that depends a lot on leaving the viewer confused, or at least hoping the viewer is confused, and then wasting time on expository tangents. If it hopes to succeed where predecessor FlashForward did not, it will need to invest more time in characterization and less on suspensful gimmicks.