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.

Being Erica

Okay, so this show looked a little cheesy when I saw it advertised while catching reruns of Gilmore Girls on the Soap network. It turns out the show, from the CBC, is a little cheesy, but it has several characteristics that intrigue me. It’s a little bit Wonderfalls (highly educated but dissatisfied chick suddenly has supernatural things happening, pointing her in the direction of her true calling); a little bit Journeyman (lots of sudden trips to the 90s); and a little bit Reaper (protagonist has frequent, unexpected visits from a jerk with supernatural powers who doesn’t feel the need to explain much). Also, Tyron Leitso, who played the recently jilted hottie in Wonderfalls, plays the recently jilted hottie in this. So off we go…

Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) is 32. She works for an insurance company. She mentions that she still sleeps with her cat, although I can’t recall seeing a cat at any point during Season 1. And, she tells us, she has made an unending series of mistakes that have left her unfulfilled. She gets fired. The guy she has a date with cancels at the last minute. She gets caught in the rain, then has an allergic reaction to some hazelnut coffee. Your basic suck-ass day.

Erica is visited in the hospital by a mysterious therapist who appears out of nowhere and has an uncanny understanding of her sad life alone with her cat (again with the cat). “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” he quotes. Thus begins a long series of quotes that make up the bulk of this guy’s conversation. He leaves his card, but one has to wonder why she would even keep it. Personally I can’t stand those elusive mentor-figure characters who speak in riddles and expect protagonists to follow their instructions without question. In a similar situation I’m sure I’d walk away, but then my story wouldn’t be a television series…

We next meet Erica’s family and friends. For complaining about how much her life sucks, she certainly has a good support system. At least half a dozen people rush over to brunch following her showdown with hazelnuts. It seems though, that she senses strong disappointment from these folks for not having a career or relationship. She runs off to find the therapist, Dr. Tom (Michael Riley). He’s waiting in a typical shrink’s office, dimly lit and lined with books. It could easily be the same set from the shrink’s office in Wonderfalls.

Dr. Tom is a little abrasive, a lot vague, and has no visible credentials. But he promises happiness. And he doesn’t charge. While it’s easy to criticize this story introduction as simplistic, one must admit the need to find happiness can eclipse skepticism, even in a reportedly smart woman like Erica. The show is fantasy – accept it and go along for the ride.

Tom instructs Erica to make a list of all her regrets, and it’s long. It ends with “Leo died.” That’s important later in the series, but we don’t get any details here.

The heart of the show is this. Tom can send Erica back in time to redo events that she regrets. We see by her trip back to a high school dance that these experiences won’t be easier to control the second time around. It’s not really going to be about changing the outcome of certain events. It’s about Erica learning things about herself. In this episode, she has to overcome worrying about what people think of her; a tall order for a high school junior. The flashback stuff is fun, with fashion, music, and slang from the early 90s. “Teenagers are idiots,” Erica declares. What a trip to reflect on yourself as a high schooler with 16 added years of wisdom.

This is just supposed to be a discussion of a pilot, but this is one show where you really have to hang with it. There are deliberate details everywhere that come together later in the season. For a show about time travel, Being Erica is completely devoid of science fiction. No flux capacitors, no Bridge Device. Dr. Tom quickly brushes off Erica’s question about the Butterfly Effect. This a soap opera that just happens to have time travel in it. Though I wasn’t blown away by the pilot, it was different and entertaining enough to keep watching. Let’s be honest. The real hook was, I know a few things about being a 30-something woman who graduated high school in the 90s, earned a literary BA and MA, and can’t find a profitable use for said degrees. And has a cat. (Where the hell is that cat?) So there. Erica is my new best friend.

Journeyman

It’s 2007. A San Francisco reporter and loving family man is having a strange day. When Dan (Kevin McKidd) arrives at a restaurant to meet his wife for their anniversary dinner, a football game from 8 years earlier is playing on television. Then he wakes up in a cab, disoriented, but continues with his evening. The next morning, he wakes up in Golden Gate Park. He goes to his house to find a strange man living there. It’s 1987. His wife wakes up to find him missing, and his brother, a cop, hasn’t heard from him.

Time travel into the recent past is always fun, since we get to enjoy laughing about old music (10,000 Maniacs, anyone?), movies (Less Than Zero) and, of course, technology (giant, bricklike mobile phones). In Journeyman, however, the laughs are few, as eerie lighting and music build a sense of foreboding. Dan saves the life of a man about to let himself be hit by a streetcar. He continues to suspect that it’s all a dream. You can feel his fear when he returns to his wife to learn that he has been away for two days, and his wife’s as she wonders where he’s been.

Soon, our traveler is off again. He is in a car accident and disappears from the scene. (Something similar happened this season on Fringe.) He always seems to stay in San Francisco, although he pops up in various locations. There is no immediately visible pattern. People seem to be the unifying factors: Neil, the guy whose life he saved and Olivia (Moon Bloodgood), an ex-girlfriend.

Little details are introduced gradually, leaving the viewer to enjoy the mystery as it unfolds. In a show where the main character doesn’t know what’s going on, it’s more fun if the audience is just as lost. We’re also learning the character’s past. His wife used to date his brother. His girlfriend died in a plane crash. You share his frustration in the fact that he never knows when he will pop back in time, or where (when) he will land. And think what it would be like if you had to exist pre-internet now that you’re dependent on it for so many things.

The pilot brings more questions than answers; like, what if Dan talks to himself in the past? Or prevents the conception of his son? And if he sleeps with his old girlfriend, is that cheating?

This is the kind of stuff that will keep a viewer watching. You would think. Apparently, not too many people did keep watching, though, as the show only lasted 13 episodes.

The pilot comes to a satisfying conclusion. We learn, if not why Dan has been selected for this mission, at least what this group of journeys was meant to accomplish. He causes the death of the guy who he first saved, preventing that guy from killing his son, who grows up to save eight lives in a bus crash. So it looks like he is going to be evening out the balance between life and death, and possibly, finding out what really happened to Olivia. There’s a kind of feel-good ending where Dan promises his wife, “I’ll always come home.” The line sets the stage for a series of similar adventures.