Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nobody Watched It But Me: "Threshold"

The Show:
"Threshold" (CBS, 2005)

The Premise:
Alien colonization via mathematical patterning and sub-audio signals is opposed by a Red Team of misfit scientists.

What Made It Special:
Aside from the nicely modern take on an invasion (echoing an issue of Warren Ellis's "Global Frequency"), the main draw was the top-to-bottom excellent cast. Carla Gugino plays intelligent and career-minded without ever going for the hard-ass-woman cliché; Brent Spiner's doctor seems to genuinely dislike his circumstances and the people around him; Peter Dinklage gives a blithe perviness to his self-destructive linguist.
But maybe the best surprise is Brian Van Holt (who, god bless him, went on to “John From Cincinnati,” potentially a future “Nobody Watched It But Me” entry) as the reserved black ops agent assigned to the group. Initially I thought he was too bland to deliver on the quiet menace I thought the character should have, but eventually it dawned on me that they were playing him like a lot of cops and criminals talk about the toughest guys they know: because he IS a badass, he has no need for grandstanding or bravado.
He gets the series’ best moment, too. After successfully defusing an armed standoff with a bunch of kids by using WORDS AND LOGIC, he puts down his rifle and, in lieu of any line of dialogue to cap off the tense scene, just sort of exhaustedly breathes out, “Pfffhhhh.”

Signs It Was Going Somewhere/Signs of Wear and Tear:
Usually this is easy to divide into two sections. But this show could be so frustratingly uneven that its good and bad blur together.
For instance, ignoring the amazing pilot (on which it appears they spent all of the budget meant for the rest of the series), week-to-week it would be a mediocre-to-just-above-average series. No visual style, dialogue mostly made up of these very smart people explaining things to each other that they already know, and great plot ideas that are pretty dully executed.
So yes, mediocre shows – that is, until the last five minutes of most every episode, which would usually end with either a pathetically minor victory, or a catastrophic revelation, both of which regularly implied that the Red Team was LOSING (example: one episode ends with Spiner realizing, "They've gotten into the food supply," which is NOT followed by, "To Be Continued").
(According to exec producer David Goyer, this wasn't accidental – their three-year plan would have seen Gugino's "Threshold" protocol escalate to "Foothold," and finally "Stranglehold," as the alien threat became overwhelming.)
This sense of losing ground on the battle escalated with every episode, but by the time it became apparent that that was part of the overall design, the show had been canned – before the last four episodes even aired.

Why No One Watched:
This was the year after "Lost" landed, and every network excitedly tried its hand at a sci-fi show. All of them crashed and burned, after which networks figured maybe people enjoyed the serialized aspect of "Lost" (a theory they watched fail the next pilot season). It didn't help that what was essentially a horror/sci-fi hybrid was sitting on CBS's normally soft-touch Friday night lineup (currently home to the reasonably successful "Ghost Whisperer," so there you are).

Where You Can Catch It:
The Sci-Fi Channel and the digital Universal Channel periodically offer reruns, but you can catch it most easily by Netflixing the DVD release.

Where You've Seen It Since:
If you check out Wikipedia, apparently it's been seen even earlier, as a reminiscent BBC series called "UFO." But since then, aliens haven't been too popular on TV or in film – the Nicole Kidman Body-Snatchers remake tanked horribly, if I recall.
Other than “Lost,” the only sci-fi TV shows with any presence – “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (which is likely picked up for a second season), and “Battlestar: Galactica” - are about robots who want to destroy us all.
I wonder if that's a sign of something. I'm no sociologist, but what does it say when we can hack apocalyptic robots, but don't really want aliens in our pop culture anymore?


thechicgeek said...

Heroes could be called a SciFi show and while Lost does have a SciFi feel to it, I'm not entirely convinced it actually is a SciFi show.

ISTV Global Stronghold said...

Heh - I completely forgot "Heroes" existed. Good work, writer's strike!

ralph.cahill said...

I watched it so nobody watched it but us.

Anney E. J. Ryan said...

the midget from elf is in that. i guess he's not having as much luck as Willow did.

"are you feelin strong my friend? call me elf one more time." "He's an angry elf."

I love that movie.