Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eureka Pre-Season Analysis

By Matthew Rasnake

If you consider yourself a sci-fi fan, and you haven't been watching 'Eureka', well, you're missing out on something special.

Eureka is a secret, company-run, government-funded town where many of the nation's most brilliant scientists live and work building incredibly advanced technologies, and conducting amazing research on everything from quantum string theory to super-fertilizers. Of course, super-experimental technology is fraught with problems, and brilliant scientists are hyper-competitive, so Eureka needs someone like Jack Carter to keep the peace, and to keep everyone alive.

'Eureka', at its core, is a smart, funny, and highly entertaining sci-fi comedy. The major characters all feel real enough, with the possible exception of Fargo, who is effectively a caricature ninety-percent of the time. They all have believable flaws and quirks, at least in the context of the show, and they all have enough humanity to give the viewer something toidentify with. The cast has a definite chemistry, and they're all very capable actors--we're not talking Marlon Brando, Al Pacino level acting here, but it's still rare for some of the less capable actors to bump up against the fourth wall.

'Eureka' is capable of delivering poignant social commentary, witty satire, and dramatic and sexual tension. And it's not afraid of getting serious--there have been more than a few episodes over the past three seasons dealing with some powerful inner and outer conflicts: Jack struggling with his role as a protective but trusting father, or his seeming inability to find a healthy, stable relationship in a town full of women with a 20 or 30 point IQ advantage; Henry Deacon's great love gone, and back, and gone again; Allison's relationship with Nathan Stark, and their final parting; Jo's occasionally awkward love life.

Week after week, what brings me back to the show are the crazy scenarios and outlandish obstacles that the characters have to overcome--things like espionage, government meddling, cover-up attempts, time travel, space travel, and very nearly nuclear annihilation. Everyone in Eureka has either died or nearly died, and a handful have come back to life, or at least been stabilized. Jack Carter has fought artificially intelligent flying drones, nanite swarms, brainwashed citizens, bacteria, and the sun (or, at least, *a* sun). There's almost never a dull day in Eureka, but if there is, you can bet that something really bad is about to happen.

I'm also hooked on the characters themselves, their relationships, their personal growth. There have been a few occasions where it seemed Henry Deacon might not return to the show after certain events, and I couldn't help but think about how much I'd miss his character, and his and Jack's friendship. Henry and Jack are the Spock and Kirk of 'Eureka', and I don't know how well the show would work without them. The other characters, though not as resonant with me personally, are very engaging, and I enjoy every minute with them.

Ultimately though, this is Jack's show. His infectiously optimistic world-view, his predilection for cutting through layers of polite or political bullshit, and his unyielding charisma all serve to draw the viewer right into the story. Jack is the kind of character that you want to see succeed--you want to see him get the girl, you want to see him prove that condescending jackass Stark wrong, you want to see him save the day and walk away with a pat on the back, content in the knowledge that he's made things right, again, if only for a little while.

Production-wise, I have no complaints. Cinematography is near feature quality, and having gone back through a few episodes, I feel it's worth mentioning that the lighting and use of color is excellent. Sometimes the score is a bit... too loud, perhaps, but the foley and ADR work is generally very good. There are often CG effects sprinkled throughout the episodes, and these are always high quality, if not entirely life-like. In fact, the CG effects are probably better than some of the physical effects, which can feel staged, and a bit hokey.

At the end of season 3 (put your spoiler goggles on here, folks) 'Eureka' is in transition. Allison Blake, director of Global Dynamics and Jack's erstwhile love interest, is about to return from maternity leave after having her dead fiancee's baby. Jack's new girlfriend Tess has taken a job in Australia only weeks after she and Jack got together. Jack's daughter Zoe has left for college, with her boyfriend in tow. And Henry is still sifting through the data brought back by an artificially intelligent space probe that had assumed the identity of Kim Anderson--his dead lover (in the main timeline)/wife (in an alternate timeline which Henry still remembers).

In season 4, there will almost certainly be a renewal of the romantic tension between Jack and Allison, though it will be interesting to see how it plays out against Jack's recent relationship with Tess, and Allison's recovery from the death of Nathan Stark on their (second) wedding day. I don't care very much about Zack, but I'm glad he's there to soften Jo up a bit, and it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops. Zoe is still featuring prominently in updated promotional material, so she'll likely have some impact on the season, which is good primarily because she provides a bit of an anchor for Jack--something to showcase his compassion and dedication to "doing the right thing." Henry appears to have finally come to terms with Kim's loss, but it will be interesting to see if they play more with his having come from an alternate timeline, and his wiping of Carter's memories of that timeline.

Like any show, 'Eureka' has hits and misses, and while it may never approach the level of "the greatest thing on TV," its misses are rare, and never so bad that I've considered dropping the show. It's a consistently solid show, and if you're a sci-fi geek, or enjoy smart wacky humor, you'd do well to set your DVR to record the new season, which starts July 9th.

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