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'The Event' recap: All interdimensional wormholes lead to Arizona

September 28, 2010 |  8:20 am

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"The Event" is the "Super Soul Hits of the '70s" of serialized TV dramas. You know what I'm talking about, right? Think about when you're in Target or Wal-Mart, and you're walking along, and you see one of those displays that's full of CDs that just collect the big hits of a particular genre in a particular decade or the top 10 hits of a certain year, the better to bring you back to a certain time and place. There's no real context for why these elements are together, other than sharing some pretty basic trappings, but there they all are, and if you liked enough of them in the past, maybe you'll pick them up (the producers of the CD hope), rather than just going to iTunes and buying the tracks you know you like.

"The Event" is kind of like this because basically every element in it is taken from an earlier, better show, probably one that the viewers watching it really, really liked. The second episode, "To Keep Us Safe," is probably a better episode than the pilot because it doesn't attempt to dance around truths the characters already know just to keep the audience in suspense, and it at least makes an effort to develop the characters a bit. But all of the answers and elements that are tossed the audience's way are the sorts of things that other shows have done already. When you've got a big, big plot reveal in your second episode -- like, let's say, the identity of your particular science-fiction MacGuffin -- it might behoove you to come up with something that everyone who watched your first episode didn't guess as soon as that episode ended.

Actually, scratch that. There's something pleasant about having things turn out just as you'd expect them to. I can see a world where the reveal that aliens are behind everything is a cool reveal. But in that world, "The Event" already would have spent enough time getting me to care about the characters that the reveal of aliens would actually have felt like it had a stake. Instead, we're just told that there are aliens wandering around, and they look just like humans and are pretty much exactly like humans, but they have certain other capabilities, like an aging process that's been slowed way down and slightly different blood types. Oh, and the ability to make crashing planes disappear in midair. This is one of those things that probably comes in handy when your spaceships keep crashing into Earth.

Anyway, it's entirely possible that these "aliens" will prove to be humans from the future or something else, but the show doesn't exactly leave itself wiggle room. That's my main complaint about the second episode, actually. Everything revealed in it feels completely perfunctory, as if the creators were crossing items off a checklist that they knew they had to get to in the course of this episode. At the same time, they cross off so many of those items that it's still not immediately clear where the show is going.

There seem to be three factions at work here: the aliens (for lack of a better word); the government and its allies; and a third organization that ... well, who knows what this third organization wants, but Clifton Collins Jr. is involved, and it seems to incorporate dissident elements of both of the other groups. 

There are attempts to make the character stuff matter more. We get to see a flashback to when Sean and Laila first met in a swimming pool. (It's the very worst kind of meet-cute -- he was a college swimmer; she couldn't swim; together, they made a crazy pair!) The president gets some flashbacks to when he first found out about the aliens living in his secret camp up in Alaska (with heavy shades of Obama's thwarted attempts to close Guantanamo). But none of this stuff really reveals anything we don't already know about these guys beyond who they're supposed to be in the kind of show "The Event" is. Sean is still The Guy Who Needs to Save His Girlfriend, and Martinez is still The President. The flashbacks to who they were a little while ago don't reveal anything essential about their characters because they're still completely obsessed with the plot.

Comparing "The Event" with "Lost" still felt a little unfair to the new show, but with an episode that prominently featured footage of a plane crash (and subsequent aftermath) that felt ripped off from the "Lost" pilot (one of many lifts the episode made from the ol' "serialized plot elements" super store), it did feel slightly more appropriate. The thing about the "Lost" flashbacks -- irritating as they could be -- was that they dug into the characters on that show in more oblique ways.

There was always an attempt to suggest that Locke was the way he was on the Island because of what happened in his past, and those attempts could feel clumsy, but the show spent much of its first few seasons using the flashbacks to graft little character-based short stories onto a fairly straightforward adventure-mystery show. 

"The Event" mostly uses the flashbacks to dig into the back story of the plot. This isn't an awful approach or anything, but it does suggest that the show is going to burn through plot so quickly that it will inevitably run out of story to tell and start spinning its wheels. (I give it until Episode 10, and I think that's rather generous.) Once that happens, the show won't have anything to fall back on because it's already used all of the plot elements it has taken from other shows. The greatest failing of "The Event" is that it took a whole "man falsely accused" plot from "24" and shows like it and a whole "supernatural mystery involving a plane crash" plot from "Lost" and a whole "aliens are among us and might mean us harm unless they don't" plot from "The X-Files" and a "conspiracy to rule the world" plot from, well, every show like this, but it didn't really bother to lift the thing that gave all of those shows the heart they needed: characters worth giving a darn about.

If you're just here for the answers the promos promised, well, they're here: The plane crashes in Arizona, which is where the space-time rift (or whatever it is) opens. Sean is the only person to escape, with all of the other passengers of the plane being slaughtered by whoever arrives in black helicopters (though it seems like Mike, the pilot, is still alive, at least). Sean is also framed for a murder he didn't commit on the cruise ship, and it turned out that the people who held Mike and Laila also killed Mike's wife. All of this had something to do with aliens, who landed in Alaska in 1944 and have been locked up by the government ever since. Oh, and Sophia -- the Laura Innes character -- is one of those aliens, and the plane crash is stopped by the aliens to save her, not the president. Also, Lee, the CIA agent, is an alien. Other stuff happened, but those were the big answers.

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: Laila (Sarah Roemer) and Sean (Jason Ritter) meet in a Boston pool. He's on the swim team. She has no idea how to float! Isn't that crazy?! Credit: NBC

Related articles:

Scott Patterson's first thoughts on 'The Event': 'Why bother?'

Ratings roundup: ABC, CBS and NBC can crow a little, but Fox's 'Lone Star' flames out

'The Event' recap: De plane, boss! De plane!

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