If there’s one impression left of La Brea by the series promos, it’s that the series will bring the spectacle. Of course, with its premise, it has to go big or go home. From the NBC website:
An epic adventure begins when a massive sinkhole opens in the middle of Los Angeles, pulling hundreds of people and buildings into its depths. Those who fell in find themselves in a mysterious and dangerous primeval land, where they have no choice but to band together to survive. Meanwhile, the rest of the world desperately seeks to understand what happened. In the search for answers, one family torn apart by this disaster will have to unlock the secrets of this inexplicable event to find a way back to each other.
Being honest, it’s not entirely the most original series idea ever. While watching, I couldn’t help but find elements, reminders, or even flat-out shoutouts to other sci-fi shows from the past. It’s a little bit Lost with a touch of The X-Files and perhaps a dash of Primeval. But that in itself isn’t such a sin. There’s nothing wrong with telling old ideas in new ways.
Will La Brea manage to do just that – take these familiar elements and put its own spin on them? It’s perhaps too soon to say. But it does attempt to hit the ground running, and in some ways, it does so successfully.
Where It Succeeds
The most successful thing about the Pilot is probably the most obvious in the trailers. The special effects regarding the giant sinkhole are relaly well done. NBC spared no expense on this pivotal moment in the Pilot, and it shows. It’s an impressive effect, particularly for network television. It also makes it clear that this is a series the network is determined to see succeed.
The Pilot also sets up some fun mysteries that will get fans speculating. For example, how is Gavin getting glimpses into the other world? How did the wedding ring travel from one time to the other? There’s also the suggestion of an overarching government conspiracy. What exactly does Homeland Security (if that is indeed the agency working on the situation) know about the rift? And how?
Of course, in the post-Lost era, it’s natural to approach this kind of sci-fi show with a hint of skepticism if not trepidation. It’s all well and good to set up intriguing mysteries, provided they have a payoff. The show needs to know where it plans to go with these plot threads, even if the audience doesn’t. So far, one assumes that La Brea knows where it’s going with these plot threads. But with so few survivors located in the rift so far, given the size of the sink hole, there is certainly plenty of room for new characters to be introduced, along with increasingly complex mysteries. The test will be whether the show keeps track of its various plot threads as the show progresses.
Where It Doesn’t
It’s a little early to say that things in the show don’t work, but there are aspects of the Pilot that didn’t work as well as others. For the most part, the cast works and the main characters are engaging. However, some of the supporting characters feel a little trope-y. On a survival-type show, it seems inevitable to introduce characters who put themselves before others. This usually comes in the form of a somewhat shady character who will steal food (or other supplies) from the group to secure their own survival. La Brea has that in the form of a police officer, who squirrels away a box of energy bars and then acts offended (and, under the current climate disturbingly aggressive) when called out.
Is that kind of character realistic? Sure. If the last few years have done nothing else, they’ve shown that there are those who will always put themselves before others. But it also feels just a little overdone. Which isn’t to say that every character should be giving and altruistic. It just feels a little too much like “this again.”
The Pilot also tries to tease that there’s more going on under the surface for some of the supporting characters. Plots aren’t entirely set up, but there are hints that there are stories there to explore. I’m just not sure that the Pilot quite has enough of a hook with any of them to draw the audience in just yet. I’m curious to know what’s going on with the therapist, but I’m not on the edge of my seat needing answers. At least not yet.
None of these are fatal flaws, given that this is just the first episode. The main problem the show will need to overcome is something we’ve written about before. Is there enough going on under the hood to keep this story sustainable (at least, without introducing so many mysteries and twists that the plot becomes too convoluted to follow)? I’m not sure it is…but, then again, Lost lasted six seasons, and it was ostensibly about plane crash survivors on a mysterious island. So maybe La Brea will pull it off.