Sunday, April 15, 2007

Drive: Elimination station

Spoilers for the premiere of "Drive" coming right up...

I shared some of my broad strokes thoughts on the show in my column on Friday, so let's just focus on some initial first impressions.

The Good:
  • Nathan Fillion. As the commenters in the Friday "Drive" thread put more succinctly than I did, the man is essentially a movie star -- and a vintage, Steve McQueen-style movie star -- working on the small screen, and Tim Minear knows how best to exploit his physical and verbal gifts.
  • Dylan Baker. The most-pedigreed actor on the show isn't going to be slamming Charles Martin Smith into a conference table anytime soon, but he has presence in his own way, and he can play both the comic dweeb side of his character and the pathos.
  • Melanie Lynskey. It's a very all over the map character -- the domestic abuse survivor played for comic relief, and for a good chunk of the premiere it's not clear whether her baby is alive or dead -- but she holds it together better than most actresses could. She's inherently likable.
  • Charles Martin Smith & Paul Ben-Victor. Smith's matter-of-factness makes the race and its mysterious organizers seem less silly, and in his few minutes of screen time as the trucker, Ben-Victor shows that he can be quietly menacing even when he doesn't have David Simon and the team from "The Wire" to write his dialogue.
  • The flashback at the start of the second hour. Yes, this is now the second series where Kristin Lehman is playing a character who suffered a childhood gambling-related trauma (see also "Tilt"), but the desperation of that sequence added some necessary gravity that's not present for a lot of the show.
The problematic:
  • By making Fillion the only regular character who's racing for someone's life instead of the cash, Minear has stacked the deck so thoroughly in his favor that not only do I not want to root for anybody else, but for much of the two hours I don't want to be spending time with anybody else.
  • On a related note, it's a large cast, and there obviously wasn't time to introduce them all properly. If I hadn't seen the commercials and/or read the press materials, I would have no idea that the trio of women were Katrina survivors, for instance. In fairness, "Lost" didn't exactly peel every onion in its pilot, either. And in some cases, there are characters I wish I didn't know as well, like the Salazar brothers, who are already annoying good boy/bad boy stereotypes.
  • The version I watched still had a lot of incomplete green screen effects during the driving scenes (the flashback to the death of Corinna's parents was the only one with complete FX), but I felt my attention wandering during a lot of the action driving scenes, like Dylan Baker playing chicken with the brothers. Again, I can't fairly judge it without having watched the final version (and I'm going to jump straight to tomorrow's episode for that), but I hope they can find a way to either make the driving scenes more interesting or make the race involve more than solving the clue and getting to the pit stop the fastest.
What did everybody else think?

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, Alan. This was so bad.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The show or the post?

Dan Coyle said...

I enjoyed it myself. Lynskey's character is so deeply weird. A nice pedigree of character actors like Baker, Martin Smith, and Ben-Victor (who'll always be Moe Howard to me).

Rick said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but I must politely disagree. I found the Drive premiere to be wholly enjoyable. What was fun about it for me is that it took the full two hours to deduce exactly what kind of a show this was going to be (the first hour ends with such a heavy twist, I actually was a little nervous -- was she really going to shoot that woman?).

As for the driving effects, they were good. TV-good, but still the sweeping shots from one car to another kept the pacing at full-throttle.

While I don't want to get my hopes up and then have the show cancelled in three weeks time, I have to say that I'm exponentially more enthusiastic with Drive's premiere than I was with, say, Heroes (a series that took me months to really start liking) -- perhaps its because Drive seems to want to be fun whereas Heroes started with a bit much self-importance despite having a premise that is equally ludicrous.

jim treacher said...

Anonymous said...

Oh, Alan. This was so bad.
11:18 PM
Alan Sepinwall said...

The show or the post?

The anonymous comment.

I really liked it! Lots of surprises. The father/daughter team are my favorite. But you're right, how are we supposed to root for anybody but Fillion? And they did the "beloved character actor who turns out to be one of Them" twice in one episode, which might be a bit much.

Kerry said...

I trust Minear more than Whedon--no one likes his shows, but they are strange and well-done for their brief runs.

The Wendy Patrakas plot and character makes no sense and grates, but the general violence and driving crazy are awesome. The other characters need to be fleshed out, but I liked the father-daughter and brother duos.

Anonymous said...

Alan, when I said this was so bad, I meant the show, not the post.

Apologies for the confusion.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I like how my anonymity somehow impugns my motives to call the show bad, which it was. I hope the show gets a full run now just so we don't have to suffer through the insufferable rants of the Minear apologists after it is canceled. Of course, I can't wait to see what they call themselves ("DriveHeads?" "Browncars?") and what their petition or "please don't cancel our show" movement pops up. Honestly, fighting to save shows like Minear's dilutes the efforts to save real shows, like Arrested Development or the like.

BF said...

I know it's a TV show, and budgets are budgets, but the last time I drove from the Keys to Miami, there weren't hilly embankments on the side of the freeway. And the trip from Jupiter to Cape Canaveral wasn't flanked by mountains.

Still, watching this show felt a lot like using Google Earth. And I like Google Earth. So all in all, not bad.

For the road geeks out there, the highway sign in the Opening Credits is Interstate 275. Significant? Who knows, but if it is, then we can look forward to trips to either Tampa, Detroit, Cincinatti, or Knoxville.

Kerry said...

"Honestly, fighting to save shows like Minear's dilutes the efforts to save real shows, like Arrested Development or the like."

I'm a bit confused how some shows are more "real" than others, since it's all fiction, populated by actors, and appearing on my tv screen.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I should have just said "shows that are actually good" or "meaningfully creative shows" or "non-hack shows" or, most fittingly, "shows that seem as if it took more than 45 minutes to write the script after watching an Amazing Race marathon."

Anonymous said...

It was entertaining, but man was it dumb. Frankly, it was like spending an hour with The Others. Tons of questions, no answers, and motivations that really make no sense. Just off the top of my head, here are some of the questions that ocurred to me:

1) Who is sponsoring this race and WHAT do they get out of it?

2) If it's so exclusive, why do they easily let Corrina join Alex?

3) Where was Corrina being kept while her parents were racing?

4) How did they run the race 27 years ago with cell phones and satellite tracking devices?

5) Why doesn't Corinna just go to the police?

6) Why go through all the trouble of helping the mom or blackmailing Alex if you're then going to threaten to eliminate them every five seconds?

7) Why do they need those people in the game so badly?

8) What exactly does "elimination" mean?

9) How exactly do they manage to have truck drivers and waitresses secretly planted all over the place just in case one of the racers HAPPENS to come across their path?

10) How do they expect the race to remain a secret when they're wandering into police stations to rescue people and kidnapping people's wives and leaving cell phones behind?

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, here's another question. Even if Alex wins, why wouldn't he just turn around and call the cops then? The whole idea of "recruiting" people--especially AGAINST THEIR WILL--is part of what kills the show in my opinion.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Guys, a request: can everybody, even the posters who want to keep their identities private, put some kind of handle on their posts? Initials, nickname, whatever. It's getting hard to keep track of who's mad at which Anonymous.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I should add, all you have to do is choose the "Other" option from "Choose an identity." You don't have to create an account or anything.

Curious George said...

Alan, I don't know enough about the history of this show's production, but is this the type of show we can expect after the rejection of the more serial dramas early last fall? This, to me, seems like a show that is meant to be more accessible to the casual viewer, i.e. someone who doesn't need to know a mythology before watching an episode for the first time.

G. Bob said...

Thought it was great.

What's not to like? Snappy writing, fun characters, an amazing-race meets mad max vibe and fast carts. Not sure if I need anything more in my entertainment.

Is it Wonderfalls or Serenity? No, but that's not what he's going for. Better than "The Inside" and damn fine entertainment.

Only complaint is that the next morning I wanted to drive really fast on my way to work.

Curious George said...

I'm not sure I would call the writing snappy. It was basically a going through the motions plot driven show where, as noted above, the characters (particularly the organizers of the race) have no rationale motivations. Do we honestly believe that a secret, illegal race could be conducted by a secret, cabalistic organization and not be discovered? It just doesn't seem like a lot of thought was put into the premise, which is a shame, because Minear has worked on shows with Whedon where there was an immense amount of thought put into both the show's universe and the character's motivation. We still talk about Firefly and Buffy years after they went off the air, but I think that "Drive," after its cancelation, will only be discussed in the same breath as Minear's other canceled shows.

Dark Tyler said...

I loved it. Not in the way than one loves The Sopranos or The Shield or even Wonderfalls, but I loved it anyway. In the way that one enjoys watching a very well-executed season of a fun reality show. If one views Minear's carrer as Buffyverse episodes, then this would probably be "Smile Time" to Wonderfalls' "Once More With Feeling".

So, yeah. Dumb. But sooo much fun. And Fillion's delivery of lines that were obviously written by Tim for him specifically, was hysterical.

In a season so full of self-important shows or even fun ones that have failed to live up to the standards they've set in the past, Drive is a very welcome addition. On the one hand, it would be sad it this is The One, because Tim has done better things in the past. On the other hand, it'd be great because it's so damn fun.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Not a shock, but what will be disappointing news to some: "Drive" essentially tanked, so this will not be The One for Minear.

Curious George said...

You know, when I watched the film, "Serenity," for the first time, I thought to myself, "Wow, this is a fun movie with snappy dialogue that has everything that the Star Wars prequels should have had but didn't." It was the same with Firefly. This show just didn't have that spark. It was technically competent, but it just didn't seem to me like there was much thought put into the premise. I think you could take the "secret, illegal race into which people are forced" are run with it (see The Running Man by S. King) but this just didn't seem to be much more than a premise with fast cars.

Dark Tyler said...

I don't know how that translates to actual people. If The Amazing Race does around 10m. people, then Drive should be somewhere around 6.5 million, right? That's on par with The Inside, IIRC, but the good thing is that the show held something like 93% of the audience for the second hour, which is very good.

I never expected it to last more than four weeks, anyway, but I'm not 100% sure it's done, until we see how it does before 24. If it holds the 6+ million that followed it to the second hour, maybe FOX will give it another chance.

(Unless, of course, I've done the math wrong and it's posted, like, Arrested Development-level numbers, in which case it's done.)

Matt said...

So, yet another slot for Fox to air reruns of "House," right? (Seriously, isn't Fox closing on the 50% mark for programming that's either "Idol" or "House" in the average week? They've got 14 hours, and they're up to 4 already (the first runs of each and a House repeat on Fridays), and as we move toward the Idol finale, we get 4 hours of Idol a week.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'll put it this way: in total viewers, it was a distant fourth place in every single half hour. In 18-49, it was in third place for the first 90 minutes, then fourth for the last half hour. It did better among young guys and adults 18-34, but this was essentially the ratings a "Simpsons" repeat got -- only, as Fienberg put it to me, this was an extremely expensive "Simpsons" rerun that the network had just spent the last couple of months promoting heavily.

Not a good start at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all surprised it tanked. The show is fun, but incredibly stupid. And the commercials made it look even dumber than it actually is. I've read lots about the show online, but buzz amongst actual people was non-existent. If it wasn't already scheduled to disappear for most of sweeps I'd already be predicting its getting pulled then.

Curious George said...

I like the comparison of online buzz to "actual people." So true.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I have had it with these mother-f'ing cars on this mother-f'ing road!

Dark Tyler said...

I have had it with these mother-f'ing cars on this mother-f'ing road!

So sad, but so true. Dammit.

jim treacher said...

"Oh, and I like how my anonymity somehow impugns my motives to call the show bad, which it was."

I thought it was more your lack of specifics than your anonymity. Now that we know you have some sort of weird grudge against Minear, that's taken care of. Thanks!

DonBoy said...

It would be a shame to cancel this show after, say, 3 hours of programming, when they've broadcast twice as many hours of commercials for it. And that's just on the Tuesday-at-10 F/X shows, which is about all I watch on Fox or F/X.

Anyway, I found it highly enjoyable, but: as Whedon says on the Buffy pilot commentary, a pilot episode is a mission statement, and by the end of this -- call it a it two-hour pilot, which may not be accurate -- we should either know that the show is willing to kill a character, or it is not; and so far, it is not. (There's a reason the scriptwriters say that you have to kill someone in the first act so that we know the stakes.) And if it is not, then the kidnapping aspect of the race doesn't sit well with me. (It doesn't sit well with me anyway, actually.)

I fear that it will turn out that the pleasure of the show depends not on trying to figure out what's going on, but on ignoring the impossibility of the premise.

Anonymous said...

I have a grudge against Minear?

Really, it's more like pity.

But I am no apologist!

jim treacher said...

Neither am I. I just thought it was a fun show with some clever twists. This did more for me than Wonderfalls or The Inside, which I thought were more overhyped than anything since... well, Arrested Development, since you mention it.

Alger said...

I enjoyed it - it was fun. I'm curious how long they can stretch the premise before it gets stupid. But I'm game.

As for the motives of the cabal and why they would put on such a race...

To me this is easily explained - some rich people will bet on anything. Think of it as an elaborate horse race - there's a "neutral body" governing the race and the rules but also behind the scenes there are team owners/backers/fans/whatever. It's an interesting idea - what provides not only the most compelling but the most effective motivation for people to win the race - love, greed, revenge, desperation? Provided the show doesn't get cancelled, maybe we'll find out.

As for the ratings - part of me wonders if the numbers aren't being affected by the "Fox Sucks, Why Bother" effect. While Fox may not be the only guilty party (or even the guiltiest) it has earned a reputation for yanking shows before giving them a fair chance. It wouldn't surprise me if folks decided upfront that they aren't going to get invested in something that they know won't pay off. Especially a show like Drive that might skew towards Whedon/Minear fans. After all, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and I'll just watch cable or play video games.

anon said...

After actually sitting through hour three, I will say that you were dead on in your review, Alan: It's like Fillion's in one show and everyone else is in another. The writing in his segments is usually more efficient (the jokes in his segments are tossed off, for example, rather than the setup-punchline-beat in the other segments) and the musical cues in his segments are darker. It's like everyone but Tully and Wiles are in Cannonball Run.

Anon

jim treacher said...

Hey, has anybody tried to calculate this show's carbon footprint yet?

And I'm glad they didn't go with the title "Exhaust," which sounds too much like "Lost." And it's how Anonymous feels after he's typed out all his reasons for hating Tim Minear.

Anonymous said...

No reason to be defensive, Treacher. Next month there will be another show for you to defend that will be canceled after three episodes.

I don't hate Minear. I just wish I had those two hours of my life back from Sunday. I wish he was as talented as Whedon. I wish the show wasn't as dumb as the other commenters have pointed out. But you haven't really addressed those criticisms, now have you?

Dark Tyler said...

Oh my God. If you're so frustrated about the two wasted hours of your life, then stop wasting even more, reading and arguing about that "waste" of a show.

Anonymous said...

Why are people so protective of Minear? You would think that there would be other television creators out there more deserving of unquestioning loyalty.

dez said...

What's it to you that some people really like Tim Minear? Why not go create a bitterness thread for the show on TWoP and have fun with like-minded people instead of harassing the people here who enjoyed the show? It's not like you're explaining your reasons for "pitying" him, either, just picking at people who disagree with you.

Anyway, back to the show: It was technically competent, but it just didn't seem to me like there was much thought put into the premise.

I felt the same, even though I enjoyed all the dumb fun. It reminds me of the frog & the T-Rex in "Meet the Robinsons": "I just don't think you've put much thought into this plan" (paraphrasing). I still had fun watching it (and wondering what I'd do in a similar situation--although with my luck, I'd wind up in a sich more like "Cube" or "The Running Man," heh).

Anonymous said...

Now Cube is an excellent example of people forced into a game they don't know how to play. Suspenseful, creative, et cetera, although the sequels weren't great.

jim treacher said...

"No reason to be defensive, Treacher."

Or offensive, whoever.

Anonymous said...

Surely it is "defensive" to call people who don't like silly shows "offensive," wouldn't you agree?

dez said...

^^ "You're talkin' a lot, but you're not sayin' anything."

Anonymous said...

Wait. Treach says I have a grudge, and you say I am not saying anything? You guys are as inconsistent as a Minear pilot!

jim treacher said...

Great point.

dez said...

You guys are as inconsistent as a Minear pilot!

We're two separate people posting our independent thoughts. And one of us felt like quoting the Talking Heads :)

Anyway, who plays the guy who was following Tully to get the flash drive back? He looks familiar, but I can't place him.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Drive promo last night had a quote blurb from "Ain't It Cool News." Wow. If that's the best praise they could come up with . . .