REVIEW – La Brea “Pilot”

You’ve probably seen a pothole or two on your regular morning commute. They typically don’t grow into massive sinkholes that transport you to another world. That’s only part of the story in the new NBC sci-fi drama, La Brea. The series premieres tonight, but I got a chance to see it early. So I’m going to share some spoiler free thoughts about the premiere.

Before I get started, here is the official synopsis from NBC: “An epic adventure begins when a massive sinkhole opens in the middle of Los Angeles, pulling hundreds of people and buildings into its depths. Those who fell in find themselves in a mysterious and dangerous primeval land, where they have no choice but to band together to survive. Meanwhile, the rest of the world desperately seeks to understand what happened. In the search for answers, one family torn apart by this disaster will have to unlock the secrets of this inexplicable event to find a way back to each other.”

It’s worth noting that this all happens near the famous La Brea Tar Pits. If you don’t know, the tar pits are decorated with statues of prehistoric animals. Pay attention to that, because it will be an important piece to this puzzle. That’s exactly what this series feels like: one giant puzzle. Given that, what kind of puzzle you like is probably going to determine whether or not you like this show.

La Brea has an ensemble cast, but it also has a lot of different side stories going on after just one episode. So this is a puzzle with a lot of pieces, but it’s not completely clear what all of those corner pieces are. The story of the Harris family appears to be the main focus, and they are certainly featured prominently in the trailer for the series. Unfortunately, the building of these characters feels a bit rushed, and even cliché at times. The premiere episode seems to have trouble deciding if it wants to give depth to their main characters or dive into the stories of the supporting cast.

Then there are the inevitable questions of “where?” and “how?”. Inevitably, the show starts trying to tackle both of these questions at the same time with varying success. There are a couple of good twists, which I won’t spoil for you. There are also a couple of annoying tropes that I could do without. There seems to be a bit of a government conspiracy card being played early on, and that strikes me as quite unoriginal for a series with such a good concept. There’s also some second sight abilities at play. You could argue that it’s integral to the plot, and I thought so too early on. A discovery made at the very end of this pilot episode kind of nullifies that, and it would have been much more interesting if discovered by chance or in another way.

One more thing that this show will be fighting are the comparisons to Lost. There is even a line in the show that it addresses it directly. While that’s fair, as fans, this is something that we really need to try to stop doing. Lost was unique in the way that it crafted it’s mystery, skillfully built up it’s characters at the right time and added new characters when necessary. La Brea might be using the blueprint, but this is an entirely different structure. The dangers of this series seem to be much greater early on, stacked on top of the survivalist aspect. Plus we get to see a lot more of those who are still on the surface and how they respond to each new reveal they experience. If you’re expecting this to be Lost, then you’re not giving La Brea a fair chance.

The dialogue can be somewhat predictable, but a couple of characters do stand out. Jon Seda’s Dr. Samuel Velez is the steadying presence that this show needs. He is highly skilled, but also very grounded. Then you have Rohan Mirchandaney, who plays Scott. He adds a much needed humor element to the show. You’ll be frustrated by him one minute, then laughing at him the next. His reactions and lines were probably the best in the entire episode. If there’s a character that will keep you guessing, it’s Chiké Okonkwo who plays Ty. The more you learn about him, the more you’ll question what you actually know. In a show like this, he’s a perfect subplot type character.

To sum up, La Brea is a bit of a mixed bag. The concept definitely delivers, and there is clearly much more to learn about what’s happening both inside and outside of the giant hole. The key will be how the show manages to juggle everything, and keep it interesting. If you’re going to give me this many stories to follow, you had better make them all interesting. The last thing I want is to wish I were seeing another part of the story. Good news is, they are quickly adding depth to these characters and expanding on a very rich setting. So this will either be a big homerun or a huge swing and miss. I’ll update this review in a few episodes and we’ll see where we are.

Photo Credit: NBC Entertainment