Too Hot for Television

CarsLast night Fox aired the two-part pilot for its series “Drive”, with another episode tonight. It’s about an illegal cross-country Cannonball Run-style car race for 32 million dollars, where the racers are coerced into participating, spies hired by the race operators are everywhere, and death is one of the punishments for finishing last (presumably). It’s got cross-overs into the Joss Whedon universe of TV shows: Tim Minear from “Angel” and “Firefly” is one of the show creators; Nathan Fillion of “Firefly” and Serenity stars as a gardner (or is he?!?) coerced into competing in order to rescue his kidnapped wife, played by Amy Acker of “Angel.”

I’ve watched the first two episodes, and I spent the entire time willing myself to like it. At times, it was like when you’re driving and your low fuel light comes on and you start semi-subconsciously trying to scoot the car forward with your butt to help it get to the gas station. I definitely wouldn’t call it “bad,” but it just kept falling just short of “great.”

There’s a real American Beauty taint to the proceedings; like that movie, the series always one-ups its various cliches… by replacing them with other cliches. By the end of the first two hours, it’s gotten everybody settled into pairs like on “The Amazing Race,” but they’re even more predictable archetypes than on the reality show: the young soldier and his girlfriend, the Latino ex-con and the half-brother he never knew, the Black GirlsTM, the dad reconnecting with his hip teenaged daughter, and a mousy abused wife and an in-it-to-win-it wild girl.

Latino guy drives a Low Rider and calls everyone “homes.” The teenaged daughter refers to him as a “road show production of West Side Story“, which I found out last night is known as “Hanging a lampshade on it.” Normally, I’m all over that kind of thing, but here it just seemed clumsy and bugged me even more.

There’s just something that feels safe and predictable about the whole thing. Even though Fox put frequent “Viewer Discretion Advised” warnings after the commercials, there was never anything particularly shocking, intense, or even surprising. It all seemed like a concept that needed something more than standard network television to really work, but would never work as a movie, either.

Still, I like the main story, as implausible as it is. And while I don’t get the crazy obsessive mania over Nathan Fillion that a lot of internet nerds have, I do like the guy and have never seen him do a bad job in anything. The show’s interesting enough to keep watching (I can’t imagine its lasting longer than a season, and I wouldn’t want to), and I hope it gets an audience if only so I can find out how it ends.