Eureka

When a character in TV or film stumbles into a Town with a Dark Secret… or Cleveland… they do so one of two ways: by relocating to make a fresh start, usually following a tragedy, (Secret Circle, Manhattan, AZ, Locke and Key) or by getting stranded there (Lost, Hot in Cleveland). Eureka‘s Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) falls into the latter category.

The show opens, however, with a wife calling her husband to bed. We pan down to the basement to find the husband tinkering with a large mechanical device reminiscent of the launchpad from the movie Contact. As its concentric circles spin the nerdy-looking man exclaims, “Susan, it works!” The sinister score lets us know that, whatever the gadget is doing isn’t good.

We meet Jack, a U.S. Marshall, as he is driving along an otherwise deserted road in his police car, with a mouthy young girl riding in back. Zoe (Jordan Hinson) and Jack are presented as prisoner and arresting officer, but bicker more like smartass teenager and protective but frustrated father. So it’s not really a big reveal when we later learn that he is, in fact her father.

They run off the road trying to avoid a dog, But not before Zoe witnesses a supernatural sight: She sees a duplicate of Jack’s car, with duplicate passengers inside, passing them on the road. Jack doesn’t believe her.

While he sets off to get the car repaired, Jack hands Zoe over to the local police station for incarceration. There, we meet Sheriff Bill Cobb and Deputy Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), a bitter overgrown tomboy. Up to this point the characters seem relatively normal if slightly standoffish. The only major hint that something is unusual in this picturesque Oregon town is a boy of no more than nine, carrying a book on theoretical physics, gives oddly articulate directions.

As tends to happen in these situations, the car cannot be repaired right away. Local mechanic Henry Deacon (Joe Morton) informs an exasperated Jack that the job will take a few days. So, in the meantime, Jack winds up helping solve a local mystery of national interest. A big hole has been blown in the back of an RV belonging to Walter, the nerdy man from the opening scene. While he is clearly hiding something, he seems well liked by the townspeople.

Next Jack meets Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) who trumps his U.S. Marshall status by announcing she represents the Department of Defense.  The RV isn’t the only thing blown apart–there has been mysterious damage to other locales and some cows. We find that whatever can of worms Walter has opened is causing a lot of trouble, and that representatives from a local research agency are trying to cover it up.

Each scene takes us a little deeper into WTF territory. This town is definitely hiding something. As Jack and Allison enter a secured area he askis, “Where are you taking me, Area 51?” She replies, “Please, they wish they had our security.” At the midpoint, we finally get some explanation: Eureka was founded by President Truman, at the request of Albert Einstein, to house the greatest scientific minds in the country. We’re still not sure just what they’re up to at the moment or why explosions from Henry’s garage are treated as commonplace. The town has an isolationist nature that begins to get creepy; it reminds me of the corporate-run communities in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

As Jack delves deeper into the mystery–he has nothing else to do–we get to know him a little better. He is recently separated from his wife. From Zoe’s snarky remarks we glean that he is a workaholic who hasn’t made time for his wife and child.

…And some other stuff happens. This pilot is little rambly and long (2 hours) as the writers attempt to introduce–it seems–the whole freaking town. And on top of setting up characters and conventions, the episode still basically follows a mystery-of-the-week formula. The problem is solved, the world is saved, and Jack and Zoe seem to be on their way out. But just as we reach end, we witness a murder. And it turns out Jack has been appointed Sheriff of Eureka and will be hanging around for a while.

Hot in Cleveland

It’s a pretty safe bet if a series opens on a plane, the plane is going down. This one goes down in Cleveland. Three beautiful middle-aged women, all familiar faces from earlier sitcoms, are headed to Paris for some gal pal time. The very first line speaks to the theme of body image insecurity. “Airplane mirrors aren’t accurate, are they?” asks Valerie Bertinelli’s character, Melanie. Her loyal friends are quick to assure here that they most definitely are not.

The in-air conversation doesn’t get much more complex than that, but gives us a taste for each character. Melanie has written a book listing things a woman should do before she dies. She is going through a divorce, and hasn’t abandoned hope of a reunion, until finding out her ex is already engaged. Joy (Frasier’s Jane Leeves) is an eyebrow… um, stylist? And Victoria (Wendie Malick) is a longtime soap opera actress who loves being recognized. She’s basically her character from Just Shoot Me so we don’t have to work hard there.

The joke is pretty simple. Women who feel old, fat, and ugly in L.A. can feel gorgeous in Cleveland. It’s a set-up for a million jokes, particularly biting if you happen to have traded a Midwest life for one filled with palm trees (and there are a lot of us). You know what’s coming; the women are amazed at real estate costs, at the attention they receive from men, at the fact that there are museums in Ohio!

The pilot is brimming with funny—if not completely unpredictable—lines, like “Friends don’t let friends move to Cleveland,” and “That price has got to missing a zero.” Personally, and again perhaps it’s personal experience talking, I about fell on the floor when one of the women exclaimed, “Plumbers in Ohio can afford boats?”

It’s easy to believe that Melanie instantly wants to set up home and hearth in the Buckeye state, especially when she points out that a month in the large 2-story house she’s renting costs the same as a night in a Paris hotel. What’s harder to buy is that her friends want to stay, too, and that the creators are going to stretch out that stay long enough to make a whole series.

Surely a key to the show’s success (Season 2 starts January 19) is Betty White. She plays Elka, the 80-year-old caretaker who lives on the premises. Granted, Betty White is amazing, but these jokes, too, are low-hanging fruit. You can’t go wrong with an elderly-person-smoking-weed bit. Elka is delightfully bitter and wry and particularly hates Joy. She can wither even these hardened L.A. babes with a look, and she dispenses wisdom like, “When you’re 80 you dress for the bathroom.”

Basically, Hot in Cleveland doesn’t ask much of its audience but the situation in the pilot has built-in humor. I watched a couple other episodes, and it seems to evolve into just another show about single people trying to get dates. The pilot may have been the high point.