In this post, I talked about how our ‘must see’ shows have shrunk, with House and Battlestar Galactica getting struck from the list for different reasons. So, what, if anything, has replaced them?
Two shows, in fact. One of them is the sitcom Big Bang Theory, which Rebecca recommended to us. We were initially sceptical: two highly intelligent but socially inept post-docs live across the hall from a beautiful street-smart young woman in an apartment in Pasadena. It doesn’t sound compelling, but as often occurs with these things, you have to look deeper.
The Big Bang Theory offers some excellent writing that is, more often than not, on the geeks’ side. It also benefits from the great acting and on-screen chemistry of the regulars. Johnny Galecki is instantly sympathetic as Leonard Hofstadter, but Jim Parson’s steals the show with the uber-Asperger Sheldon Cooper. They are balanced well by Kaley Cuoco as Penny, especially after the producers wisely upped the character’s intelligence, so that she’s a match for the other two in other ways.
Truthfully, they had me the moment Leonard went to confront a potential burglar with a replica light sabre.
The newest show to be added to our list, though, is the Syfy original series Warehouse 13. If you haven’t heard of it before, it tells the tale of two secret service agents Pete (Eddie McClintock and Myka (Joanne Kelly), who are conscripted from their prestigious jobs protecting the president by Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) to work for a mysterious (and gigantic) warehouse in the badlands of South Dakota (It should be noted that, while the show travels around the world, it’s mostly filmed in Toronto. They’re better at hiding the streetcar tracks than Due South, though ironically I spotted some while the show was supposedly set in Chicago). It is here where dangerous supernatural or scientifically uncontrollable artefacts are stored, for the protection of the public, until such time that their powers can be understood and safely controlled. Either due to the bureaucratic nature of this department, or the fact that some of these artefacts are extremely dangerous and scary, that time will likely be sometime never.
Despite having two very different personalities (Myka is straight-laced and by-the-book; Pete gets hunches which often due bear fruit) and being initially antagonistic towards each other, Myka and Pete make a good team as they hunt down more mysterious artefacts and return them to the warehouse before Bad Things happen. In the end, they decide to accept the job, despite the bafflement of their former colleagues at this wild detour of their career path.
Initially, the episodes of Warehouse 13 feel a bit like the “monster of the week” episodes (or, more accurately, the “artefact of the week”) of a toned down version of The X-Files. The banter between Myka and Pete is light and casual, and while the writing staff of Warehouse 13 are careful not to have the characters make fun of the very real threats they face, they don’t shirk other opportunities for comedy.
However, the real strength of Warehouse 13 comes from behind the two lead characters, in the form of Rubinek’s Artie Nielsen and a newcomer who joins the show around the fourth episode, Allison Scagliotti’s Claudia Donovan.
The episode Claudia is where Warehouse 13 shows that it has some legs. After trying unsuccessfully to find the source of a security attack on the Warehouse, Artie wakes up in handcuffs, confronted by a very angry 19-year-old woman named Claudia, who has a bit of a history. Ten years ago, or so, Artie advised Claudia’s older brother on a teleportation experiment that went wrong. Claudia’s brother Joshua was never seen again, except that Claudia has started to see Joshua appear and disappear around her. She holds Artie responsible and kidnaps him in order to make things right.
Artie succeeds in rescuing Claudia’s brother, but is left with a new problem: Claudia has discovered the whereabouts of the very secret Warehouse 13, and the mysterious people who oversee it (led by the sinisterly benign Mrs. Irene Frederick, played by CCH Pounder) want Artie to nullify the security threat. Moreover, Claudia, who is an orphan, has spent the past ten years either seeking psychiatric care, or dedicating herself to trying to rescue her brother. She doesn’t have a home to go back to, and hasn’t had a normal teenage upbringing on which to build her adult life. So, Artie takes responsibility for Claudia, puts her to work in the warehouse, making use of her strong technical skills, and ends up acting as her de facto father.
It’s Allison Scagliotti and Saul Rubinek who make Warehouse 13. From the moment Claudia shows up on screen, the series kicks into higher gear. Claudia is smart, sassy and bubbly, while Artie is distracted, curmudgeonly but ultimately kind. The chemistry between the two actors playing father and (teenage) daughter is a delight to watch, and the two threaten to upstage Pete and Myka on the series, except that the writers and actors wisely incorporated the two lead actors into this dynamic. On an interview, the showrunner of Warehouse 13 showed that he knew what his show was really about by calling it (paraphrased) “about a family, with a father, an absentee mother and three siblings”. Claudia also works well when she’s helping Pete and Myka on their missions.
The series has not yet reached the blow-away levels of Buffy or Angel, but it is a lot of fun, has a strong stable of actors, and characters you can care about. The storytelling has gotten progressively more ambitious, with the writers exploring the history of Warehouse 13, and the twelve Warehouse before them. Two major villains (played by Roger Rees and Jaime Murray, proving once again that all British actors are evil when they come to America) have occupied the Warehouse crew for the past two seasons and provided excellent cliffhangers, although the plotlines seemed to be neatly resolved at the end of season two. The show has just been renewed for a third season, and I for one am eager to see where the team take things in the coming year.