Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Camera Obscura
    by John Joseph Adams
June 2006

Eureka! I think they've got it!

The SCI FI Channel's new show about a zany enclave of brilliant scientists unveils their new formula for success: (good acting + top-notch production values) x clever writing = first-rate entertainment

SCI FI Channel
Director: Peter O'Fallon
Writers: Andrew Cosby & Jaime Paglia
Starring: Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Debrah Farentino, Joe Morton, Jordan Hinson, Ed Quinn, Matt Frewer, Erica Cerra, Neil Grayston, Shayn Solberg
Air Date: July 18, 2006 at 9 PM on The SCI FI Channel
Rated TV14-LV/ 120 minutes / 2006
(out of four)

There's this little town in the middle of nowhere called Eureka. Sure, there are lots of towns called Eureka, but this one is called that with good reason. You see, much of the technological innovation to have been developed in the past fifty years or so has come from the scientists living there. It seems that after World War II, Albert Einstein convinced President Truman that a peaceful future would be secured with advanced technology, not soldiers, and so Einstein asked Truman to "create a haven where the world's greatest thinkers could live and work." And Truman did. And that's Eureka.

Into this insular community blunders our protagonist, US Marshall Jack Carter (Ferguson). After collecting his delinquent daughter Zoe (Hinson), who had been busted impersonating a flight attendant, Carter is driving them back to their home in LA. But on a desolate road at night, Carter swerves to avoid hitting a dog and, as a result, his car end up in a ditch. This leaves Carter and Zoe a long walk ahead of them, and the closest town turns out to be Eureka. (Curiously, neither appears to have a cell phone; then again, perhaps the isolated area they were in was out of range, or perhaps all the high-tech goings-on at Eureka interfered with the signals, or maybe Carter lost it when he fell out of the car. Reasonable explanations all, and a minor point, but a pretty glaring oversight.)

Once Carter and Zoe hike into town, Carter arranges for his car to be towed, and soon finds himself in the middle of a very strange case. It's clear that one of Eureka's resident genius's experiments has gone awry; at the local filling station, the back end of a family's RV mysteriously vanishes, seemingly taking the family's young boy with it. A manhunt ensues, and this precipitates the arrival of Agent Allison Blake (Richardson-Whitfield), the government liaison between Eureka and the Pentagon. She and Carter verbally spar over jurisdiction and the like as Carter pokes around the RV...and discovers the young boy hidden in one of the compartments. This earns Carter the respect of the sheriff and Allison, but there's still the question of what happened to the RV? As it happens, it turns up on the edge of town in the woods, but how or why it got there remains a mystery. And when incidents like the one with the RV start happening throughout town, it's up to Carter, Allison, and inventor/mechanic/former space shuttle engineer Henry Deacon (Morton) to figure it out, before the odd happenings spread beyond Eureka.

I've never been a big fan of SCI FI Channel programming; I love Battlestar Galactica, but that's about it. I never even got into their other well-received shows like Farscape, and the two Dune miniseries didn't do anything for me. So I was quite skeptical that Eureka would be any good...and was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it quite a bit.

At times in the pilot, the show seems to be trying a bit too hard for that quirky vibe (i.e., when we first meet Henry and his assistant), but other than that there's very little to criticize. Sure, it's got some gonzo science, but they fake it well, and it's otherwise a solid, well-written show, with likeable and well-drawn characters, which are all ably performed by the cast.

Colin Ferguson in particular is worthy of kudos for his performance, and his charming turn as Jack Carter will give viewers someone immediately to care about in the series, until we get to better know the other characters. Joe Morton also does a fine job as Henry Deacon; if he remains an active participant, rather than a secondary background character, the show will be the better for it. The rest of the cast is similarly likeable and interesting; from just a two-hour pilot, we get a pretty good idea of what each of the characters is like, and a lot of time is spent on their development.

Eureka's two-hour pilot never drags or feels too long; it works extraordinarily well as a piece of entertainment on its own, even as it sets up the rest of the series, so it succeeds on both levels. The pilot also has a nice surprise that I didn't see coming, one that changes the town dynamic a bit and bodes well for some intrigue in the future. And there are enough other glimpses of malevolence hiding beneath the surface that generating tension (and future plotlines) should not be a problem.

I found myself completely engaged by the characters and the story, and was never impatient for it to come to a conclusion. That might sound like faint praise, but for me to say that about a pilot—and a SCI FI Channel pilot, no less—is practically a rave.

Also included on the advance screener DVD I received was the episode "Before I Forget," which is scheduled to air on August 1, 2006. That would make it the third episode, I believe, so rather than get into the plot here, lest I give away anything, let me just say that it is another high-caliber episode, at least on par with the pilot.

If the writers can keep this up, Eureka could turn into a sort of quirky, irreverent version of the X-Files, one that focuses on the technological conundrum of the week, rather than the monster of the week. And if that develops, SCI FI could have a real hit on its hands.

Eureka premieres on Tuesday, July 18, 2006 at 9 PM on The SCI FI Channel. If you can't wait, check out SCIFI.com's Eureka site and be sure to take a look at the Made in Eureka page for some laughs.

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