The first of, count ’em, three new science fiction invasion television shows premiered tonight. Threshold on CBS received more early positive press than NBC’s Surface and ABC’s Invasion, which both start next week, so I was looking forward to it.
I know that doesn’t seem fair. But I am so disappointed, I don’t feel the show deserves much more.
First, here’s where I’m coming from: I’m a big fan of science fiction. I seek out, and look forward to, new science fiction. I like the new Battlestar Galactica, I liked the old one too. I liked Firefly and look forward to Serenity. I still watch Stargate SG-1 every week and enjoy the spinoff Atlantis. I like Star Trek and Star Wars equally because they are completely separate universes, but I’m not a fanboy of either. I even watched Enterprise when it was on, but always felt a little disappointed. One of their better story arcs brought Brent Spiner back. I’m a big fan.
Threshold has nothing in common with these, aside from Mr. Spiner.
Threshold is a typical network primetime cop show, with a poor excuse for junk science sprinkled on top.
First of all, everyone walks around like a bad-ass. I noticed this same phenomenon when I tried to watch an episode of NCIS a few weeks ago (it was in HD, so I gave it a shot). When did actors start acting like this? Funny, people who don’t like science fiction will dismiss it as “phony.” This crap is more phony and unrealistic than I’ve ever seen, anywhere. It’s as if every character is a cartoon, and every one of them has a heavy metal soundtrack accompaniment. After a while, they all blend into the same level of beige.
The director seems to think he’s a bad-ass, as well. Shots and sets are way over-prepared, nothing more than a series of film school clichés on a better budget. Every scene was predictable, because I had seen the same camera angle one thousand times before! Case in point: When Molly returns to her home and opens the refrigerator for the second time. This time, however, the shot has pulled back to include the open fridge door, some of the background, and Molly down in the left corner—a completely unnatural setup if we’re only meant to look at our star. It is painfully obvious that she’s about to close the door and we’ll be “surprised” by what’s behind it.
As if that wasn’t lame enough yet, our antagonist spews some juicy alien talk a few seconds later. Cartoon character small-person womanizer but world-class linguist shows his genius by playing a recording of Gunneson’s alien talk backwards. Yes, backwards. No one else was able to decipher that supreme mystery. The message? “You are one of us!” Why backwards? Who knows? This show is made for dummies.
Don’t believe me? What science do we have in our fiction?
• A four dimensional alien vehicle. Hey, that’s one more than we’re used to! But so far, no depth at all. We do see zombie Gunneson blink in and out of existence. Let’s see if they use this for more than just that gimmick. (Edit: They never did use it again. Ever.)
• A triple-helix DNA strand. Hey, that’s one more than we’re used to! What does that mean? Well, of course it’s a TV-speed way to show that they are modifying our own DNA. What does strand number 3 do for you? Well, apparently it allows you to suddenly exist in 4 dimensions, just like that! Poof!
• Audio signals programming and controlling the mind. Hey, as a musician that’s interesting. Didn’t South Park do it first in episode 317, Worldwide Recorder Concert (The Brown Noise)? And, even though these sounds are completely within audible range, and are able to be sampled and digitally altered by our own limited Earth equipment, keeping their mysterious powers intact, we’ve never seen this phenomenon before. Ever.
• Aliens changing humans into maniacal zombie killers. Hey, that’s.. not.. new at all.
• Hey, fractals. I see some people already pointing to fractals as proof that the show is intelligent. People who don’t like the show are, therefore, dumb. Here’s a clue: Fractals are math harmonics. They aren’t high math. They are a natural concept, recognition of which can portray sentience, like a list of prime numbers or the first few elements on the periodic table. All good! Unfortunately, fractals do nothing to make me care about the cartoon characters in this script.
I am aware that Threshold is based on a comic book. I don’t think that’s the root of the problem, however. It didn’t hurt Sin City, Blade, Spiderman or the X-Men because the live-action versions knew where they were coming from. Threshold feels like it comes from a committee of suits around a polished wood table. “Oohh.. what if we could do a CSI: Creepy Alien?”
I still want to like Threshold. I’ll keep watching and hope for more plot. Or less? I can’t help thinking that a well-crafted show would have given up fewer details in the first two hours, but in a much more interesting fashion. “The next X-Files” this is not.
Next up is Surface on Monday night. It’s too bad Galactica and Stargate wrap up their seasons next week. At least Lost starts again on Wednesday.