TV Review: Promising Supernatural Thrills of ABC’s ‘The Gates’

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CHICAGO – After years of simply giving up to cable networks like AMC, USA, and TNT, the broadcast networks are trying to reclaim summer viewers; none more aggressively than ABC with three new shows debuting this week — “Scoundrels,” “The Gates,” and “Rookie Blue.” We’ve covered the first dramedy and will get to the cop show later this week but now is the time to break down the supernatural thriller in the middle that stands as the best of the three. TV Rating: 3.5/5.0
TV Rating: 3.5/5.0

“The Gates” is a blend of the hit ABC soap opera “Desperate Housewives” and the country’s obsession with all things vampire from “Twilight” to “True Blood.” At its best, the show recalls a much earlier cult hit with a twist: The legendary “Twin Peaks.” At its worst, it feels like the countless copycats that followed David Lynch’s hit show.

The Gates
The Gates
Photo credit: ABC

The show opens with a scene that at first feels like it would fit perfectly with the ladies of “Housewives.” A beautiful foreign woman (Rhona Mitra) watches her daughter nearly get run down by a contractor who hits his head as he swerves out of the way. She takes him in to bandage his wounds and begins to seduce him. “The Gates” takes its left turn from a standard soap when she bits his neck and drains his blood into the kitchen sink.

The Gates
The Gates
Photo credit: ABC

Cut to the new residents of the titular community of which the slogan is “It’s Not Just a Place to Live” — The Monohans. Of course, there’s a new family moving to this gated swingtown and they will clearly serve as the audience’s eyes and ears for the twisted behavior that will almost certainly ensue.

At first, “The Gates” seems to be about a community with one odd resident. The new family goes about their routine with the father (Frank Grillo) taking his role as the head of security for the well-off and their son makes friends and enemies at school, while the family of bloodsuckers tries to protect their privacy. Of course, with dad being a security officer pressured by past demons to ignore the clearly odd behavior in The Gates, it’s not long before he investigates the missing contractor and the show’s first two worlds merge.

I say “first,” because it soon appears that the sexy vampire may be just the tip of the supernatural iceberg. There are many more residents of The Gates that are not quite what they seem. It’s actually a reasonably clever concept. If vampires were among us, wouldn’t they live in a gated community with other creatures of the night?

First and foremost, “The Gates” is a far more expertly paced and produced program than “Scoundrels” or “Rookie Blue” (and light years better than the awful “Happy Town” and even the canceled “Eastwick,” two similar shows) and could develop into something truly interesting if its creators are willing to take a few more risks. First risk — Why not get actually get dark in every sense of the word? Like most shows, “The Gates” is remarkably over-lit, giving it all a bit too much of a TV sheen that drains the piece of any actual sense of threat. One of the greatest things about “Twin Peaks” (and most of “Lost” for our younger readers) was that there was an actual sense of dread that’s as yet missing from “The Gates.”

The Gates
The Gates
Photo credit: ABC

Having said that, the dialogue, characters, ensemble, and direction of “The Gates” is superior to many of its summer competitors (and even most of what we’ve seen of the new Fall ones). It’s very difficult to judge a supernatural soap opera on one episode as so many have turned out to be dull bores in a short amount of time but there are more things that work about “The Gates” than ones that don’t — something that can’t be said about either of the other new ABC programs.

It’s impossible for “The Gates” not to remind viewers of other programs or works of fiction. But it’s notable how quickly those feelings fade as the talented cast develop their own three-dimensional characters. There’s a scene where a lovestruck kid is attached to a lie detector by the girl he’s immediately fallen for that’s much more clever than it should be simply due to the strength of the cast and the smart writing. At its best, the show displays a lot of potential to be a weekly supernatural addiction. The hope is that the writers and producers keep pushing the show in its own direction; taking risks and making memorable television, not just TV that provokes memories of better shows.

“The Gates” stars Rhona Mitra, Frank Grillo, Marisol Nichols, Luke Mably, Travis Caldwell, Skyler Samuels Devon, Colton Haynes, Janina Gavankar, and Justin Miles. It premieres on ABC on Sunday, June 20th, 2010 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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