Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Surface, Episode 1

Back in the fall of 2005, the three big networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) all premiered shows about mysterious water-related creatures: Threshold, Surface, and that other one. If you don’t remember any of these three, don’t worry – neither does anyone else. Apparently, most of America just wasn’t ready for mysterious water-related creatures.

Fortunately for all of you, I was one of the few who not only watched Surface religiously, but bought it on DVD the day it came out.

The show opens with three teenagers taking a boat out for a joyride at night, towing a fourth teenager behind on water skis. He wipes out and his friends ditch him. Because this show is already bucking convention, the water ski boy – or, as we’ll come to know him, Miles – does not get eaten. He sees something slide off a nearby buoy and proceeds to freak out, but he’s fished out of the water by the Coast Guard before he can be devoured.

Kids, I want you to listen to me very carefully when I say this: never, ever go into the water at night. In the event that you do decide to go into the water at night, make sure your friends aren’t assholes. If your friends are assholes, you will get eaten by something big and mysterious. Miles is an exception to the rule, because he’s a main character on a television show. But, I can promise you, you’re not a main character, no matter what you write in your LiveJournal. So don’t go in the water after dark unless you want to feel something brush up against your legs, then pull you under. You can thank me for that bit of advice later.

The first episode introduces us to several mysteries, some of which will be answered over the course of the season, some of which will be forgotten entirely. One such case is a nuclear sub that shows up 500 miles off course, chillaxing near the Antarctic. The crew has disappeared without any signs of a struggle. The only exception is that all the electrical systems have been shorted out. Oh, and as we find out in the end of the episode, it has bite marks on it. That reveal is much more dramatic when mysterious evolutionary biologist Dr. Aleksander Cirko says it. See?

So, we meet our other characters in the first episode, including Dr. Laura Daughtry, Marine Biologist, and her adorably precocious son, who says things like, “Okay, you win … this time.” Yeah, he’s like seven, but he’s clever in that creepy way that TV children are. Daughtry is an unfit mother at best, and she’s apparently shipping him off to his dad’s house because she’s going on a dive of some sort. I say she’s an unfit mother not for shipping him off, but because she threatens to cut off his stuffed animal’s ear if he doesn’t get moving. It works, and I can only imagine the years of therapy that will follow.

More than anything, what we learn in this episode is that everyone is either a) phenomenally stupid, or b) remarkably incompetent. Or, in the case of Dr. Daughtry, both. Then again, it’s hard to take Lake Bell seriously when her version of no-nonsense marine biologist basically amounts to chewing gum while walking. I guess because it’s hard for most people?

They shove Daughtry in a big tin can to go explore the thermal vents on the sea floor. You can watch Lake Bell struggle with remembering the big words like “ecosystem,” but it plays like she’s nervous, which makes sense, given that she’s flying solo in a submersible. And then! A glow from the porthole, and mysterious cries. A blip off the starboard on the radio, but it disappears. And then, a field of craters that go thousands of feet deep … until something starts coming up on the depth meter. And, if it weren’t Lake Bell, this is the point at which the person in the sub would be eaten, and an intrepid young marine biologist would crusade to figure out what’s down there. But, since it is Lake Bell, it’s safe to say that she will be the intrepid young marine biologist. And she thinks she’s seen “what [we’ve] been working for – a higher mammalian species.”

I’m just a layperson, but here’s a thought: don’t work toward a higher mammalian species. No good comes of finding the next step on the food chain.

Daughtry shows up at the lab the next day to find everything is being confiscated, including her research. She gets to have a one-on-one interview with Aleksander Cirko, identified as being both “Berkeley” Aleks Cirko and “Recluse” Aleks Cirko. I hope that, one day, I too can be described with both those adjectives. I’d also be willing to trade “Berkeley” for “Eccentric.”

Daughtry gets to have a super deep conversation with Cirko, where she exposits about how she had her son at 21 and worked really super hard to get through school, so she’s earned the right to know stuff. I’ve excerpted the whole exchange below, because it involves some serious gems.

I know that, judging from this review, you wouldn’t be able to tell otherwise, but apparently Aleksander Cirko is not a main character. That’s not how the show in my head works, but in reality, I should probably pay some attention to the other characters.

Getting back to the teenager’s plotline, it turns out that Blair Waldorf is Miles’s sister, and she brats around a lot saying things like, “Remember, you reflect on me.” It’s like Surface was Leighton Meester’s bitch training grounds.

Miles is grounded for going on the joyride, but he’s more concerned with finding the sea monsters, because he can’t leave well enough alone. So, he and his stoner ginger buddy go out in a dinghy into the mysteriously foggy bay and find a cache of eggs floating in goo on the surface. And, because seriously, Miles has a death wish, he fishes an egg out, takes it home, and throws it in his parents’ fish tank. Because if there’s one thing that’s a better plan than taking a mysterious egg home, it’s storing it in the giant fish tank in your parents’ living room. No one will ever notice that, and there’s no chance that introducing a mysterious species into a fragile environment will end badly. I, for one, am shocked – shocked! – when the mystery egg hatches and the mystery creature eats all the fish and breaks out of the tank. Who could have seen that coming?

Like I said, phenomenally stupid.

Speaking of stupid, there’s Rich, the southern hick who drinks beers with his younger brother and calls people “bubba.” Because he’s southern. He also yells “yeehaw” a lot. Rich goes diving with his brother, and his brother decides it’d be an awesome idea to spear one of the sea monsters. He’s dragged down quickly to the depths, teaching us all a valuable lesson in why you don’t tie your spear gun to your arm when you go spear fishing. Once he’s back on the surface, Rich starts talking about sea monsters. But that’s not half the crazy we’re about to get from him. Or, for that matter, from this show.

As for the monsters themselves? Well, a carcass washes up on the beach in South Carolina, and we’ll get to see more of it soon. Also, Dr. Cirko unveils a massive tooth at an NSA briefing (those guys handle everything, don’t they?), and says it’s as if it just “fell from the sky.” Then the show nut punches us with irony in the next scene, where hundreds of shooting stars ominously splash into the ocean. And with that, we fade to black dramatically and go to our arbitrary points system.

Aleksander Cirko’s dramatic line readings: +26
Dr. Laura Daughtry’s parenting: -4
Dr. Laura’s creepy, precocious son: -12
Dr. Laura’s creepy, precocious son sitting in a suitcase like my dog does: +3
Miles’s ET plotline: -3
Leighton Meester as the obnoxious older sister: +8
All actors managing to say “mammalian” without adding extra syllables: +4
The sea monsters not devouring a single obnoxious teenager: -7
Extra points because I know what happens in the rest of the series: +14
Casting one of the least convincing actresses ever to be a brilliant marine biologist: +12
Changing the name from the working title Fathom, so reviewers can’t make puns about how “it’s hard to Fathom how this show was greenlit.”: +14
Changing the name from the working title Fathom, so I can’t make puns about how “it’s hard to Fathom how this show was greenlit.”: -14

Total: 41 out of 100
Best quotes:
“You’re a marine biologist. You of all people must know that life isn’t fair.” - Aleksander Cirko
”You don’t look too surprised.” “I’m not. I’ve been expecting it.” - Aleksander Cirko

Surface, Episode 1

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