Warehouse 13 is one of those shows I want to like a lot more than I actually do. I love the idea of it. It's set in my beloved home state. I think the cast is pretty fun, and I really love the character of Artie, who has what's pretty much my dream job. This has all of the ingredients necessary to make a goofy, fun summertime romp. And yet, something about it holds me completely at arm's length. I've enjoyed individual episodes (particularly as season one got going and found a groove), but the series itself is full of moments that never coalesce for me. Inevitably, when the show turns to its master plot about who's behind the warehouse or all of the crazy things it has on its shelves, I start to zone out. The same goes for the rivalry between Artie and MacPherson. Sadly, much of the season premiere focuses on that relationship.
I think the reason so many people love this show so much is because the world the show has cooked up is a fun place to hang out. The idea that there's a massive warehouse in the South Dakota badlands that features numerous objects from various fictional traditions is an inherently fun one, and that gives the show a lot of goodwill from the start. Honestly, this show could just be about people wandering around the warehouse and having laconic conversations about its contents for a half hour every week, and it would probably still be pretty enjoyable. The central premise is good enough that the series doesn't really need to take risks. It can be exactly as good or bad as it wants to, and it will always have a certain level of likability to it.
But the series doesn't really bother shooting for the stars or making something engagingly atrocious. Instead, it splits right down the middle, and that makes the premise the series has seem almost perfunctory. I watched every episode of the first season of this, but I'm not sure I could tell you much of anything about most of them, beyond the show's basic premise. The cast is all right, and the technical elements are all well-done for this sort of thing, but there's always a sense that the series knows it's just a basic cable show in the summer and doesn't have to sweat doing too much beyond subtle little tweaks to its formula. (This, by the way, is what rubs me so wrong about so many USA shows as well.) The show could be a lot darker. It could be a lot campier. It could be a lot weirder. Instead, it seems to settle for bland far too often. And that's death to a goofy science fiction comedy that hopes to have some witty, unresolved sexual tension between the leads.
Last season on the show, MacPherson was unbronzed and turned out to be in cahoots with the woman who owns the hotel (Leena, for those of you playing along at home). There were explosions, and Artie was buried under rubble, and we find out near the start of this episode that Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder, who always seems out of place when she turns up on this show) was badly injured as well. Anyway, it's up to our intrepid heroes to figure out what MacPherson has smuggled out and untwist the series of betrayals that caused them such pain as last season came to its close. Unfortunately, the ways in which all of these things happen are almost completely dramatically uninteresting. But we'll get to that.
The best thing here is the notion of H.G. Wells being a woman who actually designed most of the devices in H.G. Wells' books, then gave the ideas to her brother, who "supplied the mustache." I'm not entirely certain of what I think of the actress playing her, Jaime Murray, who occasionally seems to be having fun and occasionally seems to fall into the bland line reading trap so many actors on NBC Universal cable series fall into (imagine the scene where the two leads ride the contraption across the warehouse's ceiling with actors who actually conveyed some of the excitement at doing such a thing), but the choice itself is an interesting one and takes the series even further in a steampunk direction, which is always nice. This isn't something that immediately makes me think, "Oh, this show is going to be much tighter in season two," but it does suggest a more expansive world, which is good.
I had big problems with the way the show reversed some of the big reveals. I have no problem with Claudia not being the bad guy who betrayed the warehouse, and I like the idea of it being Leena wearing the thimble to do so (apparently, some thought this was a cop-out). The real cop-out here is having Leena be controlled by something beyond her control, a pearl that Mrs. Frederic chokes out of her. Having Leena kill Mrs. Frederic (or vice versa)? Kind of awesome. Having Leena be a secret bad guy all along? Something that could work. Having her be a tool of the bad guys without her knowing? A weak, weak resolution. If you want to keep the actress around, fine. But you need to come up with a way to do so that doesn't simply undo a big reveal with a shrug.
I feel similarly about the way Artie is restored to safety in such a blasé fashion at the beginning of the episode. It's as though everyone's feeling emotional (and emoting kind of poorly), and then, boom, he's back. Resolving a cliffhanger is hard because you want to get back to the meat and potatoes of the show, but if you don't give the cliffhanger the dramatic heft it deserves, then there's no good reason to have one in the first place. All of the cliffhangers the show threw at us last season are ones that were reversed in the most perfunctory of manners, and that made the episode feel even more deflating than usual. The plotting of the main caper was fun, for the most part, but it was hard to get invested when it was clear the show was frantically tap dancing back toward the status quo. You don't have to change everything, but you have to change SOMEthing.
I don't want it to sound like Warehouse 13 is an absolute abomination. It's a relatively enjoyable summer show, one that goes down easily every time. But it's also a show that seems to have a concrete idea of the five or six things it needs to do to give us a "good time" and then does those five or six things in every episode, executing them not with the wonder and thrill of a show that is just tossing off a ripping good yarn, but with the workmanlike precision of someone constructing a really utilitarian chair. You can sit on it, but the pleasure derived from it is entirely derived from having it function exactly as you'd like it to. Warehouse 13, like a lot of other shows on SyFy and other cable channels, is a show that does exactly what it's supposed to and does it well. And all the while, I'm wishing it would push a little harder, even if it led to utter destruction.