I watch a fair amount of television. Not as much as some people, but enough. I like TV. I went for a couple years with no cable (which, here in Maine, means that you can't really watch much of anything but the Static That Tells You To Kill Everyone channel), and that was fine, but I missed the comfort of regular shows, of having something running in the background while I stared at the ceiling. Funny thing is, now that I have cable again, I don't use it the way I used to. I don't channel surf, and I rarely just watch whatever happens to be airing. The main reason I started watching again is so I could write recaps, and I find that changes how I experience television. I'm not as casual as I used to be. There are very few shows I'll put on just for fun, because it's just as easy to throw on a Star Trek or an X-Files ep, or catch up on the reruns of the sitcoms I missed that I may write about, or, hell, read a damn book.
I mention this because Haven, a new SyFy (ugh) original series inspired by a Stephen King novella, is the sort of mildly pleasant escapist fare that I don't really watch anymore unless I'm paid to do it. Which makes it a little odd for me to review. The pilot isn't great, but it isn't awful, either. I can't praise it to the heavens, because it's bland and the episode's plot-line is undercooked, and the town of Haven itself isn't as full-realized as it needs to be. That's hard to pull off in 40 minutes, no question, but the problem here isn't that I was expecting a completely distinctive setting, so much as some kind of hook. There's a premise here, but it's the sort of premise you can grasp in concept without being really excited about. Haven is a small town where strange things happen. Now where have I heard that before?
Pointing out the obvious debt the show owes to Twin Peaks is both understandable and a little misleading. We have the expected cast of odd locals, we have an outsider FBI agent (Audrey Parker, played by Emily Rose) who doesn't really know what's going on, and we have the occasional death. But where Twin Peaks mixed plenty of spookiness in with its cherry pie and black coffee, Haven lacks an edge. Audrey is officially sent to Haven to track down a missing fugitive named Jonas Lester, which, as mysteries go, isn't on a wrapped-in-plastic level of attention grabbing. Of course, Lester dies before the opening credits, so we at least have a corpse to explain, but a dead convict who gets maybe two lines before being hurled into the abyss isn't going to keep anybody awake at night.
The manner of his death is curious, though, and that's a start. Some invisible force flings him off a cliff, so while Haven doesn't have its ancestor's eerie charms, it's at least as willing to dabble in the occult. There's a certain X-Files feel to this, too, as Audrey pieces together Lester's last known associates, and uses practical policing to solve an impractical crime. If you'll accept Audrey in the Mulder role (she's no skeptic), we even have a male Scully in the form of a police deputy and potential love interest. The episode's main mystery is solved with as little drama as possible, which is odd considering it involves conspiracy, a hired killer, telekinesis, and psychic weather control. It's interesting to watch Audrey handle with occult elements with such laid back efficiency, but it also makes for very low-impact viewing.
That's Haven all over, but there are worse ways to spend an evening. Rose is charming in the lead role (I think this is the first time I've actually seen her in a show, but she did terrific voice work on the Uncharted games), and the dialog is snappy and light. The rest of the cast blends together, and the trio of actors who make up Audrey's first "case" on the show are forgettable, but there's potential here. We get hints of a back-story for Audrey, including an FBI boss who's not at all what he seems, and the possibility that Audrey's family once spent time in Haven. (She's an orphan.) Haven is nominally based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, but apart from two reporter characters and some references to the "Colorado Kid murder," there's not much of a connection. The original story was one of King's riffs on how real life often refuses to give us the answers we think we need, and while not every question Haven raises is answered in the episode, there's no doubt that the show will dig deeper, provided it doesn't get cancelled first.
The best thing I can say about this one is that I'm considering adding to the Tivo rotation, where, much like the last season of Castle, it will most likely sit until I remember to delete it. Right now, there's no good reason to recommend the show. It could theoretically strengthen over time, but as is, I'd say the odds are against that happening. It's in the middle of the bell curve, and even if it does fall closer to the good side of that curve, there's so much great TV these days it'll be hard to justify wasting time on this, unless you have a particular taste for mild banter and occasional attempts at Maine color. I'll give them points for pronouncing Bangor right, at least.
- I'm baffled by the Stephen King connection. Is it just a publicity grab? The whole point of the novella is that it's incomplete. (And still surprisingly creepy for all that, something Haven can't match in the slightest.)
- Another reason I'm seriously considering keeping an eye on this one is Audrey's line, "I dreamed my mother would roll up in a big bus and she would rescue every kid in every orphanage around the world." I like that a lot. It's odd enough to get my attention, and just sad enough to keep it.