Rush Preview: The Event, on NBC (spoiler-free)

by Paul William Tenny

A scene from the pilot of NBC's
A scene from the pilot of NBC's 'The Event'.

Previews are hard to write because you can't really tell people what happened without spoiling the episode. I've said that before and I think it's worth repeating so that you, as a person who hasn't seen the pilot for The Event, understands why I'm talking about some things and not others.

There's a common theme to my handwritten notes: comparisons to Lost. The Event has flashbacks that don't explain anything. To the contrary, they make the show slightly confusing (and very dynamic) because most of them raise just as many questions as what's happening in the present - and that's saying a lot, given what you see.

There is plenty of meat to chew on; this is not a slow, boring pilot.

The "time" structure of this show - at least in the pilot - occurs in the minutes, days, and weeks proceeding the beginning of the the event. So much so that that we seem to spend an equal amount of time in all the different tenses. That may not actually be the case, mind you, with only enough time for a single viewing, that may be a false impression on my part, but it sounds about right.

I don't know if this cheat will work as well, given that the "relevant flashback" is a variation on a theme, and there's a reasonable argument to make that it never worked that well for Lost early on in the show. It will almost certainly annoy a lot of people but it'll intrigue its fair share as well. I found it awkward early but fascinating late in the pilot because unlike early Lost flashbacks, relevant things are happening in almost all of them and they tend to be as exciting and interesting as "now".

One way to get this across clearly to you is to say that in most dramas, you've got two or three story arcs happening in a single episode. Some characters are doing one thing in place A, while other characters are doing something else in place B, bouncing back and forth and hopefully converging at the end of the episode in a sensible way. That's what The Event does, only rather than having those concurrent stories happen "now", each one happens in a different time period. But they all feel like "now", and they all seem to continue seamlessly as we move through them.

It's pretty cool and I think if you go into this show with an open mind - don't think Lost, or as one odd person put it, 24 - just accept it for what it is. You don't have to like it, but I think you may have to work a little to shake off the feelings of similarities in order to feel comfortable with what this show is trying to do.

I don't have time to go into this in detail, but my theory of the "one-off" series is a complete story told over the course of a single season which can't - or shouldn't - be stretched any further. Some stories aren't meant to run 4-5 seasons and get boring and repetitive quickly, yet are stellar in their natural medium. Turning a 10-page short story into a novel is usually a bad idea. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it's a literary abortion.

Heroes and Prison Break were examples of what should have been one-off series. One and done. They burned brightly and vibrantly and then should have just gone away.

Which isn't to say that both shows didn't have good moments in the seasons that followed. Again, there's not enough time for me to say much more on the subject. I think you get the idea.

The Event strikes me as a one-off concept, but it's hard to tell. If we don't find out what The Event is by the end of the first season, people may get impatient. If we do find out, it might take the show's breath away and suffocate it.

If there's a plan to approach The Event in multiple stages in a way that's not forced, that's how this show makes it to syndication and gives NBC something to build on. Leaning what The Event is may not be The End if we can maybe Stop The Event, or fail and then try to Mitigate The Event, etc. A single season of a show like this should be a quest, with each subsequent season another quest. If that's what we have here, I think it'll do well.

If not, who knows. I'm not an expert and there's a lot of ways to appeal to people's interests.

I've heard at least one person compare The Event to 24. Forget it. That was marketing. This show potentially is much better than 24 because it has depth that 24 could only dream of. And this is coming from a huge fan of 24.

I am concerned about how long it will take for us to find our sympathetic character. It's hard to tell whom the series will revolve around and it's impossible to decide based only on the pilot who we like and will empathize with. It's better to get that sort of thing across in the pilot but not everyone can do it. These guys didn't do it, so I hope to hell they start selling these characters by episode two.

One final concern - I have many more in my notes that hopefully I can expound upon in the review - the pilot lives and dies with ambiguity. It seems like every single person in the show knows what The Event is, and we don't. To follow them around means having to watch everyone be intentionally ambiguous. As I wrote in my notebook, "It feels like actors hiding information from viewers, rather than people familiar with something" that are trying to deal with it. "When we argue, we rehash details to make points, over and over again."

Think back to any argument or debate you've had and you'll realize how impossible it is to have a debate or argument without reciting one detail after another. There's a scene in which the President is discussing telling the public about The Event with some of his military and national security advisers (it's not clear who everyone in the room is just yet). It's painful to watch because the entire debate takes place without using a single name, or common reference. It's like trying to argue the merits of cutting Social Security benefits without saying the words "Social Security", or "taxes", or even "cuts".

I'm terrified that this will only get worse as time goes on and to me, it betrays a fundamental flaw in the design of the series. Lost worked well because everybody we watched on a daily basis didn't know anything more about the mysteries of the island than we did. We learned something when they learned something, for the most part.

We'll be in the dark the entire time watching people who know everything there is to know, and that's already annoying. Try to ignore it, like I'm going to, and maybe that's just an artifact of the pilot.

Only time will tell.

Verdict: I loved what I saw and I want more of it. Now.

The Event premiers tonight at 9PM EST on NBC.

in Feature, Television


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