What do you believe?
Every year, the TV networks put out at least one major event series, one with all the elaborate production values and extreme marketing push of a summer action blockbuster. In 2010, NBC took this concept to absurd new heights, with an event series simply titled The Event. Despite all the hype, ratings dropped fast and hard shortly after the debut, and a second season never happened. Now, viewers can see what they missed in this five-disc set containing the entire series.
Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, Joan of Arcadia) is on a tropical cruise with his girlfriend Leila (Sarah Roemer, Disturbia). He plans to propose, but those plans are cut short when she is kidnapped. His search for her eventually puts him on board a hijacked airplane, and later uncovering a worldwide conspiracy, with agents seemingly around every corner.
Elsewhere, U.S. President Martinez (Blair Underwood, L.A. Law) has discovered the existence of a number of prisoners who have been locked up in a secret facility in Alaska for years. He plans not only to release the prisoners, but announce their presence to the world, as the prisoners are, as he’s told, “not terrestrial.” Before he can do this, the president is attack and then miraculously saved. The prisoners’ leader, Sophia (Laura Innes, E.R.), was once an ally of the president’s, but now she’s an enemy, on the run with her own people’s interests meaning more to her than the president’s.
Caught up in both these plots is Agent Simon Lee (Ian Anthony Dale, The Hangover) who has connections with the White House and Sophia’s people, as well as knowledge about Sean and Leila. With his loyalties tested, though, not even he sure who’s side he’s on.
It’s both callously commercial and unintentionally comical that this show is named The Event. What, exactly, is the “event” that the title refers to? There are different theories about that. Some believe it is the big special effects moment at the climax of the first episode. Others think it refers to when Sophia’s people first appeared on Earth. Others wonder if it has to do with whatever the show may or may not have been building to in its eventual finale. A line of dialogue in the final episode half-explains what the event is, but its ambiguous enough that viewers still debate what it means. Me? I say the title is purely meta. The creators are telling viewers, “This show is an event! You have to watch! If not, you’ll miss out on all those important water-cooler sessions the next day! Watch it! Watch it now, dammit!”
Everything on the show revolves in one way or another about Sophia’s people. What to call them? The show explicitly states not to call them “aliens,” and that the preferred term is E.B.E., short for “extra-biological entity.” This term, however, is also almost never used. In most cases, Sophia and the prisoners are simply called they or them, so that’s what I’ll go with here. At its heart, The Event is an alien invasion story, told through three perspectives—a man-on-the-street point of view, a White House point of view, and a point of view from them. The three groups travel across the globe, working to outsmart and outmaneuver one another at each turn. After the plot-heavy first few episodes, which are told nonlinearly in flashbacks and flashforwards, the show settles down into a routine of sorts, as each episode has one White House-versus-them plotline, and a plotline with Sean doing The Fugitive, at once pursuing and being pursued by sinister conspirators. The first four or five episodes have viewers believing the overall plot is going somewhere. The middle part of the series, however, has the story arc spinning its wheels, with each episode being a weekly game of “who will outsmart who?” The final few episodes introduce (what else?) a deadly virus, and the build-up to the series finale is all about stopping it.
This show is lavish. You can tell the network dumped boatloads of money into its creation. There are scenic locales, explosive set pieces, impressive CGI, and more. Too bad all the production value in the world cannot make up for the many bang-your-head-against-the-wall moments of ridiculousness in the scripts. At one point, the president asks his advisor Sterling (Zeljko Ivanek, Live Free or Die Hard) why he doesn’t trust them, and Sterling’s answer is, “I can feel it in my bones.” Really? If the president of the United States asks you a question, it seems to me that you should have a better answer at hand other than, “I can feel it in my bones.” The president gets around easily, visiting an airplane crash site or a hospital with almost no security, not to mention any advisors, press, or any other of the dozens of hangers-on that typically follow the president everywhere. Worse, in one episode, two main characters randomly meet a reporter, who says she’s investigating all this. She tells our heroes exactly what they need to know at that moment, and then she is immediately written out of the series. That’s just a few examples. There are forehead-slappers like these in every episode. Such lazy, clunky writing only serves to take viewers out of the story. With millions of dollars on the line and hundreds (thousands?) of people involved in making this show, how is it no one raised his or her hand and said “This scene is stupid?”
It doesn’t help that so many characters are painted in such broad strokes. Sean is the nice guy, willing to do anything to save Leila. We rarely get any genuine character development from him, though, as most of his time is spent reacting to or running from whatever life-threatening crisis he finds himself in. His few interesting moments come when he’s squaring off with Vicky (Taylor Cole, The Green Hornet) a tough girl involved in the conspiracy. At the White House, the president is always portrayed as honest and stalwart, while Sterling is always portrayed as sneaky and manipulative. Their conflict is consistently Sterling trying to convince the president to lie and torture, while the president is adamant about being honest and non-violent. Conflict is good for drama, but this dialogue between them is repetitive and makes them look like one-note characters. Faring better is Sophia, who might appear to be the villain by human standards, but among them she is the good guy, where she must make a stand against Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr., Brothers) a ruthless and bloodthirsty one of them who does not agree with Sophia’s ideals.
No expense was spared on the big action scenes, so expect plenty of close scrapes, vehicular mayhem, and bloody gunfights (with squibs!). The carnage isn’t quite enough to make up for the ludicrous plot, but it helps. The writers and producers clearly enjoyed Zeljko Ivanek because his character Sterling is given more and more to do in the latter half of the series. They even give him some moments of Jack Bauer-style tough-guy awesomeness. It’s always fun when the guy who doesn’t look like a badass proves himself to be a badass, and that’s the case here.
A bunch of familiar and semi-familiar names show up as guest stars, including Virginia Madsen (Sideways) as a scheming senator, Clea Duvall (The Faculty) as another one of them, D.B. Sweeney (Jericho) as a cruel henchman, Bill Smitrovich (Millennium) as the vice president, and Hal Holbrook (The Firm) as a mysterious billionaire, among many others. This makes for a fun case of “spot the famous face” throughout the show.
Those million-dollar production values shine on this five-disc set, with bright, vivid colors, natural flesh tones, deep blacks. The sound is just as good, especially during the big action scenes, but the score often gets a nice audio boost as well. Four episodes get commentaries, and there are deleted scenes on every disc. Of special note are the separately-playable episode recaps, which are longer and more detailed than the “Previously on” bits in each episode. They are narrated by a woman with a sarcastic, comedic tone, as if to say to viewers, “We don’t take our own show seriously anymore.”
“Hello, TV executives? I have a pitch for a new series, one that will be the centerpiece of your prime time lineup for years to come. It’s called The Compelling, Well-written Story That Has Interesting Characters and Is Full of Genuine Suspense, Humor and Excitement. What’s that? You say that’s not the sort of show you interested in? Well, OK, it’s your network.”