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.
- 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.
- 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.