CHICAGO – Standing up at the Lyric Opera house in Chicago is unusual before a show. But in this case, it was the night after a tragedy, and the operetta “The Merry Widow” – set in Paris, France, in 1905 – was about to unfold. The orchestra struck up La Marseillaise, a reminder that we’ll always have Paris.
TV Review: NBC’s ‘The Event’ Lives Up to Mysterious Title
CHICAGO – Don’t tune in to the premiere of NBC’s “The Event” expecting answers to that oppressively-advertised question of what the title refers to, although the producers have made clear that it won’t be long before we know. Like a lot of sci-fi show premieres, the first episode of what NBC hopes will be a replacement for “Heroes” on Monday nights begins with more questions than answers.
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
In fact, the majority of the pilot of “The Event” comes from the “WTF” school of storytelling in that you rarely have any idea what’s going on or why but you’re interested enough to not only stay tuned but instantly set your DVR for next week. The primary test for any pilot is whether or not it finishes in a way that makes you want to tune in for the second episode. It’s hard to believe anyone who watches the ridiculous climax of episode one won’t tune in to episode two to see where the chaos goes from here.
(l-r) Taylor Cole as Vicky Roberts, Zeljko Ivanek as Blake Sterling, Blair Underwood as Elias Martinez, Jason Ritter as Sean Walker, Sarah Roemer as Leila Buchanan, Laura Innes as Sophia McGuire, Ian Anthony Dale as Simon Lee
Photo credit: Patrick Ecclesine/NBC
The narrative structure of “The Event” involves enough chronological twists and turns that it can be difficult for the viewer to know “when” something is happening as opposed to what the hell is going on. In fact, the majority of the primary action of the pilot takes place in a short window of time with a series of flashbacks explaining just how we got there. I can’t imagine the entirety of the series will have such a crosscutting style but it’s effective for the first episode. While I generally feel that tricks with chronology are a crutch for weak writers, it has something of a mesmerizing effect in “The Event,” as each flashback allows a different angle on the action of the show.
Blair Underwood as President Elias Martinez, Lisa Vidal as Christina Martinez, Sayeed Shahidi as David Martinez
Photo credit: Justin Lubin/NBC
Jason Ritter stars as Sean Walker, a young man seemingly caught up in one of the most impressive international conspiracies in history. He’s on a lovely trip with his girlfriend (Sarah Roemer of “Disturbia”), one in which he plans to propose to her, when she completely disappears. There’s no record her having joined him on the trip at all and poor Sean seems caught in a Polanski-esque nightmare. She has simply vanished off the face of the Earth.
Flashbacks to Sean’s really bad trip are intercut with what looks like his attempt to hijack a plane in present day. As what appears to be a government agent (Ian Anthony) races to stop the plane from taking off, we also meet the newly-elected President (Blair Underwood), the leader (Laura Innes) of a mysterious group of detainees, and even Sean’s future father-in-law (Scott Patterson), who appears to have closer ties to the action than anyone first suspects.
Recapping the plot of “The Event” might give some the impression that I have a clear idea of what the hell is going on. The rapid-fire premiere is designed to leave viewers even more confused than when it begins. If you are easily frustrated with shows like “Lost” or “Heroes,” ones in which the narrative is purposefully muddled, than “The Event” is not for you. And there’s no denying that the program has echoes of “FlashForward,” “Threshold,” “Invasion,” or any number of other programs that began with intriguing questions that were unsatisfactorily answered.
Jason Ritter as Sean Walker
Photo credit: Patrick Ecclesine/NBC
What distinguishes “The Event” from other “Lost”-esque failures and why should we hold out hope that this will be the new high-concept hit? First, Ritter has a charismatic everyman quality that so many of these programs have been missing. We need someone to be our eyes through the chaos and the young actor seems up to the challenge. It also helps to have notable TV veterans in the ensemble including Innes (“ER”), Zeljko Ivanek (Emmy winner for “Damages”), Patterson (“Gilmore Girls”), and the ageless Underwood. Behind-the-scenes veterans of shows like “24,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “The 4400” add a sheen to the production values of the show that shouldn’t be understated.
The veteran-level quality of the cast and crew is essential in that there’s a confidence of storytelling required for a piece like “The Event” to be successful. We don’t want to feel like we’re being set up with questions that the creators of the show have yet to even answer, but TV viewers are willing to be led through the maze as long as we think there’s a way out. The presence of talent like Innes, Underwood, and Ivanek gives the viewer a confidence they might not otherwise have with all-new faces.
Will “The Event” be the next “Lost”? Competition in its time slot seems far-too-intense with “Monday Night Football,” “Lone Star,” and “Two and a Half Men” siphoning DVR space and NBC has struggled on the first night of the work week for some time now. It seems hard to believe that “The Event” will break out between the eternally-struggling “Chuck” and the mediocre “Chase.” It’s a shame but the one reason I might suggest that you NOT watch “The Event” is that it may not be on the air long enough for the fascinating questions set up by its accomplished pilot to be answered. Let’s hope that’s not the case. There are very few quality programs making their debut this week. “The Event” is one of the best.