"Us Or Them" S1 / E19
- C- Community Grade
(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
When The Event debuted last fall, it quickly became a guilty pleasure of mine—so guilty in fact that rarely told anyone I was watching it. (I even waited until my wife had left the house to go to work in the morning before I fired up the TiVo.) I didn’t watch The Event because I thought it was a good show—it’s not—nor did I watch it in a “so bad it’s good” way. It was more a weird feeling of nostalgia that strung me along. Until The Event came around, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the intensely serialized, mystery-laden action-adventure TV of the ‘00s. I know, I know—it’s only been a year since the ‘10s began. And I know that most of those post-Lost/post-24 shows were a mess: over-thought, under-realized, and then cancelled before they every got to realize their grandest ambitions. But in a time of mass scaling-back—with near-daily news stories about television networks learning to settle for lower ratings and reduced costs—I found something oddly cheering about NBC throwing money at a convoluted would-be epic.
Then the four-month hiatus arrived, and when The Event returned, I lost interest quickly. Whatever itch I had back in fall of 2010 had been scratched; “Us Or Them” is the first episode I’ve watched since mid-March.
The first thing I noticed after such a long layoff is how much had changed: President Martinez is in a coma; Vice President Jarvis is in charge (manipulated by Sophia); Michael and Leila are working with Sophia; Sean and Angela are teamed up and chasing aliens around the world. The second thing I noticed was how little had changed: this individual episode barely advances the plot, and most of the “action” consists of people standing around in rooms and on telephones, debating what they’re going to do before they do it (and thereby prolonging the story artificially).
Also, the show seems to have gotten much, much worse. Maybe that’s the inevitable result of The Event answering most of its early questions. When the series began, viewers weren’t even entirely sure who was a good guy and who was a bad guy. Add to that the jumbled time-structure and the vagaries of who the aliens were and what they wanted, and The Event at least had a baseline page-turner quality. In addition to the nostalgia factor, I kept watching because it made me curious. And I can honestly say, after watching “Us Or Them,” I am no longer curious.
The standing-around-and-debating largely happens on three fronts in this episode. In the C-story, director of national intelligence Sterling continues to investigate the possibility that Jarvis poisoned Martinez by slipping something into his coffee. Sterling checks out the coffee stain on his sleeve and guess what? It’s tainted with some weird bio-chemical! Sterling confronts Jarvis, and Jarvis promptly fires him. (Maybe Sterling should have gotten some back-up first.)
In the B-story, alien CIA agent Simon Lee freaks out when he hears that Sophia has had Martinez poisoned, and he becomes such a potential liability to her operation that she asks alien airline pilot Michael Buchanan to “take care of him.” Michael’s half-human daughter Leila tries to shame him out of killing Simon by babbling her way through some story about a life-lesson he delivered to her when she was a little girl. And sure enough, when Michael goes to confront Simon, he fires his gun over Simon’s head and says, “Let’s get out of here.” Simon and the Buchanans flee Sophia’s makeshift compound on foot, but Michael gets shot, and tells Simon to run on without him, carrying an antidote to the poison that’s killing Martinez.
Everything about the B-story—Leila’s speech, Michael pretending to shoot Simon then freeing him, Michael getting shot and choking out a “Go on without me!”—was predictable and clichéd. But the B-story had nothing on the A-story for eye-rolling corniness. Sean and Angela are in Russia, pursuing a lead that one of the aliens—a courier named Alex—has a deadly biological weapon to be transported into the United States. Sean and Angela catch an airplane, following the person they believe to be Alex—a skittish dude who carries his briefcase with him even when he goes to the bathroom—but when they waylay him in the back of the plane, they find out that he’s just a cocaine smuggler, and let him go. Then Angela calls in a tip to her FBI colleagues and the plane is flanked by fighter jets, and when a passenger stands up and starts rushing to the front of the plane, Angela stands up to to nab him… but it’s another false alarm (just a man worried about his wife).
The whole “Is that the guy?” routine quickly becomes ludicrous—the coke-dealer misdirection alone is priceless—and it’s made even sillier by the bickering between Sean and Angela about whether they can trust each other, which culminates in a scene where Sean has a gun at his head and is begging Angela to “Take the shot!” and stop the virus-couriers, but she stands down because she doesn’t want him to get hurt.
Look, people can bitch about Lost all they want, but when I watch something as contrived, unimaginative and shapeless as The Event, I appreciate anew how well Lost was able to turn nearly every one of its individual episodic units of television into something entertaining in and of itself. (I know that The Event is a low bar to clear, but still.) Lost wasn’t above artificially prolonging a moment or relying on stock action-movie clichés either, but at least the writers were skilled at creating the illusion of a larger purpose. With The Event, I feel like everyone in front of and behind the camera is just trying to wheeze their way to the finish line, so they can get started looking for another job.
Maybe this was just as obvious at the start of the season and I didn’t notice it because I was trying to warm myself in front of the dying embers of the previous decade’s storytelling style. But I think that a lot of what made the adventure-dramas of the ‘00s so grabby is that they were dealing in both overt and oblique ways with the issues of the day: post-9/11 melancholy, the corrupting thirst for revenge, manipulations of truth by people in power, the hunger for heroes, etc. And because The Event is a pale imitation of those shows, it’s not about anything, except wasting a year in some talented actors’ careers. (And some not-so-talented-ones as well.)
- Remind me: What was The Event again? That disappearing airplane thing? Or has there been some other Event?
- Thanks to Joshua Alston for letting me step in this week and vent.