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Old 07-10-2014, 01:46 AM   #1
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Default When Good Shows Go Bad: Eureka

While Syfy has done a few things right ( Battlestar Galactica, even if I think the final act was crap) they're in general kind of a terrible network when it comes to original program. Their TV movies in particular are just awful (I'm still bitter over Highlander: The Source), and I'm not crazy about what they did to Stargate. Still the network did have Eureka, which despite a bafflingly hacked-up production was a fun show. Lets examine that, shall we?

The History

SciFi (as to was originally known) launched as a network in 1992 and for about a decade struggled to be more than a sort of niche network, though it was a decided place to find programming such as the cult science fiction show Farscape. The ten-part epic mini-series Taken and the subsequent re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica helped the network get the attention it needed to be able to produce more original programming. NBC Universal guy Jaime Paglia (couldn't find reliable info on what his job was prior, but apparently he worked for NBCU) and independent comic creator Andrew Crosby ( Haunted) pitched Eureka, which would last for five full seasons from 2006 to 2012 and a total of 77 episodes. While the premiere attracted 4.1 million viewers the show would average around 3 million for the first few years of its run before withering down to 1.5 for the finale.

The Show

Former U.S. Marshal Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) and his daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson) find themselves in the secretive town of Eureka, Oregon. Eureka is run by the massive research and development company Global Dynamics, who are in turn watched by the US Department of Defense. Jack ends up the town sheriff when he shows that despite being potentially the dumbest man in town (virtually the whole population has a Ph. D of some kind), he's pretty good at tackling any crisis that comes his way. The cast includes Dr. Alison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), who is initially a Department of Defense representative who works as a go-between the DoD and GD; Dr. Henry Deacon (Joe Morton), a brilliant older scientist with seemingly never-ending versatility who, for moral reasons, only works as the town mechanic; Dr. Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn), a top GD scientist and jackass with a heart of gold (or at least silver); Deputy Sheriff Josephina 'Jo' Lupo (Erica Cerra), a former US Ranger; Dr. Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston), the resident clumsy and/or bumbling scientist; and Zane Donovan (Niall Matter), a renegade scientist GD recruits. Debra Farentino, James Callis, Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day are just a few other frequent cast members that showed up.

The Good

Okay, Eureka is not the smartest or the deepest show out there. I'd even say as such below if I didn't want to focus on three specific things in the go bad area. Still the show has a lot of charm. I really, really love Colin Ferguson's portrayal of Jack. While the main cast all did a fairly good job, Ferguson's run as the simple (compared to everyone else) guy who nuts up to deal with absurdities is great. I don't think I'd have stuck with Eureka if a lesser leading man was around. It probably helps the Jack Carter isn't the kind of man who won't scream when he's in trouble, because he really sells it. Some other characters I could take or leave what happened with them, but I was very invested in Jack's story.

Now the show's main charm is that it's generally a sci-fi comedy. The comedy tends to come from the fringe (if not outright BS) science the wacky people of GD are experimenting with, which almost inevitably goes awry. While I appreciate the scientific method, I also don't care when people want to rely on the rule of zany and/or funny just to keep things interesting. Since rule of zany was pretty much in the mission statement from the word 'go', it really comes down to how the show handles it. Even if the situations vary the common thread is that something goes awry, Fargo gets screwed over by it, Henry and/or Alison figures out a solution and Carter implements it, typically while screaming. What I do appreciate is the show sells, sometimes dramatically, how leaving the scientific threat gone mad can have dire consequences. Despite the more dramatic moments however the show is pretty funny to watch.

Speaking of the drama, the show had some damn good moments. The show's ongoing myth arcs aren't great (not bad enough to rant about but despite being the guy who likes that kind of effort I just didn't care) but they add some genuine drama, and generally it really doesn't feel cheap. Side characters who seem like they'll only be in one episode can turn out to have a major impact on events, people can die and some of the show's villains who pop up can be extremely cruel. For a show that can be zany Eureka will do a damn good job pulling at your heart strings and shocking you in a good way. Two episodes that manage to be both enjoyable and shockingly dramatic are Once in a Lifetime and I Do Over, which are probably my two favorite episodes.

The Bad

Before I get into some specific problems, the show really drove me nuts with their obsession to pair off all the protagonists by the end of the series. Zoe and Stark were the only two people to not hook up permanently by the end of the show, and by the end Jack, Alison, Zane, Jo, Henry and even Fargo had found love. I'm sure I've mentioned more than once that I don't mind romance in a show per say, and I do find it refreshing when a show calls attention to people's personal lives ( CSI barely tackled it and when they did it was really freaking weird) and not just the central lead's. That said, a lot of the hook-ups felt forced, random or ignored possible implications. Jack and Alison worked out fairly well together, Fargo's wasn't bad, but Zane and Jo never made sense to me. There's this old obsession with having two people who seem to despite each other fall in love, and it can work quite well generally. Zane and Jo, I didn't buy into it, we never really got a good reason why that happened. Henry's own kettle of fish, lets dive into the mess to come...

Season 4 is where everything changes. Thanks to time travel, Fargo, Henry, Jo, Alison and Jack find themselves living in an alternate timeline. Now, this did kind of work since the show made somewhat of an effort to show how it changed and how hard it was to adjust to the changes: Fargo was now head of GD, Jo was now head of GD security, Alison was head of GD medical, Henry was married to a woman named Grace and Jack found himself with an android named Andy for a deputy. The problems started to come in when Jo was proposed to by Zane before the timeline change, and now in the new timeline they still hate each other. While in theory this is a sweet way of showing they're destined to be together no matter what happens, it was a literal reset button on a relationship, one that was already kind of hard to be invested in. General badass Jo basically became a mopey whiner thanks to this, which really wasn't necessary. Alison's son Kevin was no longer autistic in the new timeline, and while its definitely a disorder and not some kind of gift its pretty damn horrible to do this and then have Alison say, “I like this version of my son better.” Her son as she knew him is effectively gone and replaced with an incredible simulation, and Alison's like, “Meh.” One character is mopey, one isn't mopey enough. Henry also begins a long, plodding arc where he falls in love with a woman whose husband he replaced, and even after she learns about it its okay because they're in love now, as horrifying consequences have no place here...

After the timeline stuff was explored for a while the show began to focus on a space mission to the Saturn moon Titan. This plot took up all of the second half of season 4 and was rather plodding, hijinks of the week and even some of the comedy taking a backseat to relationship drama and other general pointlessness. Really at this point the most interesting plot was what Fargo and his associates Parrish (Wil Wheaton) and Holly (Felicia Day) were doing, as while it was a love triangle it was also generally entertaining. Then Season 5 became primarily about Holly's shocking death (Felicia Day killed by science?! Say it ain't so!) and resurrection (no one blinks twice at the fact they had to clone her a body by the way) as well as for some reason having a subplot where Jo and Jack look at what could have been if they'd ever started dating, which went nowhere. The season was mercifully the last.

The Blame

The writers were influenced a bit by the network, who had gone on record wanting more drama to keep viewers drawn in as the wacky science premise started to wear out. The alternate timeline was an ambitious attempt to do something no one had really done before, but it seems like it clashed with a network demand to make their programming more appealing to women (this was right around when they went from Sci-Fi to Syfy and picked up WWE Smackdown). Shows can need to evolve to survive, but this just felt like languishing and trying to draw something out as long as possible, and it was technically only five seasons. Syfy also kept keeping producers guessing on how many episodes they'd get ordered, which is why the seasons kept getting broken up. Basically the writers had some good ideas, network execs messed with them, and in the end they ruined a good thing, though it wasn't unwatchable.

So can I recommend it? Yeah. I can't call it a great series, but it was fairly harmless. Just be ready for a lot of kinda boring romance subplots and some horrifying implications for when people don't bat an eye at controversial elements. It is a show I do miss.

So when I started this month I didn't realize I kind of had an unintentional theme of doing almost entirely shows about wacky science and shocking elements of drama. To that end I guess this is now Wacky But Deadly Month (name most likely to change each week because I've yet to find one I like), in which we'll look at a few more shows that both feature zany science (or scientists) and some palatable drama. Gonna save the trickiest one for last however and next week examine a One Season Wonder that you've probably never heard of but is none the less incredibly influential...
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Old 07-10-2014, 08:36 AM   #2
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I loved Eureka. They definitely had some weird things going on near the end, but I put the blame squarely on the network, and SciFi was a MUCH better network than SyFy will ever be - and Eureka is just one of the many reasons why.
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Old 07-10-2014, 03:53 PM   #3
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I liked Eureka when it first aired but after a while it got a little too weird for me. I especially didn't care for the animated/cartoon episode they did.
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