La Brea premiere runs to mystery, leaves characters behind

My dearest readers,

This blog began as a way to chronicle the wandering path I’m taking to replace the emptiness in my life after Lost. I’ve written about shows that were nothing like it but still provided season after season of entertainment. Some finished on a high note (Person of Interest) and others on very, very low notes (Game of Thrones) and some fizzled out (Revenge). These shows are fun if nothing else. 

But the shows that really catch my eye are the ones with the most potential to really be “The Next Lost”. Take Manifest as an example. It was supposed to be TNL but I turned vehemently against it. Flash Forward and The Event contended but really just because they aired near Lost’s final season. Neither was great and both failed to get a second season. Fox’s short-lived Terra Nova was the show I felt had the best chance to be TNL. It turned out to be only meh but had the same foundation as Lost: Characters out of place in a distinct and unknown world.

NBC’s new fall drama La Brea shares it as well. Which is why after watching the pilot twice I am so frustrated. Like so many other failed network dramas, La Brea runs right past its characters and into the arms of what it thinks is a tremendous mystery. That gets the formula backwards. Any show looking to be TNL has to embrace its characters and let them walk us to the mystery. 

Here’s all the reasons La Brea didn’t do that.

The pilot episode sped through an entire day. The episode began in the morning and ended at night, but I don’t feel like I saw a day’s worth of action. Here’s the timeline:

Morning—Eve is stuck in L.A. traffic near Curson & Wilshire while driving her daughter, Izzy, and son, Josh, to school. A massive sinkhole opens, swallowing every person and building for blocks in all directions. Josh falls in, Eve rushes back to save him only to suffer the same fate. Eve later wakes up in the sinkhole, we don’t know how long she was out.

Afternoon—Eve and Josh re-unite among the ruins of what fell into the hole and dozens of other people who the outside world thinks are casualties of the disaster. 

Late afternoon—A pack of wild animals attacks the camp, leaving Josh gravely wounded. We know it’s late afternoon because Marybeth, a cop in the outside world, tells Ty, a psychiatrist struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s going to be dark soon.

Night—Eve, Ty and Sam, a Navy SEAL-turned-surgeon, find an ambulance with the medical supplies they hope will save Josh’s life.

Am I the only one who finds this a big miss? These are strangers in a strange land who went through a horrible trauma and La Brea gave us almost nothing about what that must have been like for them. It’s a missed storytelling opportunity, but also it’s bad episode construction. The writer and director did a poor job establishing the size of the hole’s world and how long it would take to move across it. Did Eve spend three hours or 30 minutes walking from where she woke up to where she found Josh? They were at camp (which is what this main area will become) for several hours before the animal attack. What did they do? We got a few scenes of them searching for supplies, but not nearly enough to indicate this took all day.  

An almost laughable reveal about the hole’s location. Like most viewers I picked up pretty early that falling through the hole sent the victims back in time. As the episode crept toward its finish with no real movement in that direction I figured they’d hold it off until a later week. Wrong! Eve is standing by the ambulance and happens to notice the outline of the Hollywood hills painted on its back door exactly matches the hills she’s staring at. Putting two and two together she tells Ty and Sam she thinks they’re still in Los Angeles. 

Oh. Set aside the fact that the Hollywood hills may have geographically changed since pre-historic times. What a joke of a way to tell your story. To my previous point, the show could have had the characters spend their first day in the hole facing a drama/adventure/obstacle that led to them realizing where they are in a heart-stopping way. That would have been compelling. Instead they made it an aha moment inspired by some painting on an ambulance. You’ve got to be kidding me. 

The hole wasn’t a character. For a show set in an alternate world to be compelling, the world itself has to be its own character. It has to have the same presence the lead characters have. It has to be put under a microscope and revealed the same way a character is. No sign we’re going to get that here. 

The least interesting ending you can imagine. A saber-toothed tiger (or something like it) emerges from the jungle. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Eve, Ty and Sam are probably in danger but the screen fades to black before we find out what happens. Not that we are even interested because there was already a wild animal attack earlier. I can’t picture why any writer, producer or network exec thought the threat of a second animal attack would make us tune in for week two. 

That is four reasons the show will fail and I haven’t even gotten to the world remaining in Los Angeles. Eve’s estranged husband, Gavin, crashed out of the military (literally) and has some visions. Shockingly, those visions prove prescient when he happens to dig a hole exactly where Eve lost her wedding ring when she woke up in the sink hole thousands or millions of years ago. Fate, I guess. Yawn. We also have the government on hand to build a tent city in a matter of hours and you know it’s keeping all kinds of secrets. Original. 

La Brea has enough characters to give each one their own episode and explore who they are and why they’re acting the way they are in their new life. But based on the pilot I don’t see it happening. At one point, one of the survivors says to another, “Maybe we’re just in an episode of Lost.”

Buddy, I knew episodes of Lost. And you’re in no episode of Lost.

Sincerely,

The Wandering Lostie

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