Thursday, August 24, 2006

Small town sci-fi: Eureka and Three Moons Over Milford

Summertime means indulging in watching TV shows I probably wouldn't bother with when there are five other things competing for my attention every night, and so I've been watching these two shows even though they aren't all that good. Maybe it's because both have interesting concepts that they frustratingly squander, to varying degrees, and I'm continuing to watch in the hopes that someday they'll finally live up to their potentials. When I reviewed Eureka (Sci Fi, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) before it first premiered, I found it pleasant but a little boring, and unfortunately the boring side has won out over the pleasant as time has worn on. Part of the problem is that many of the fun, interesting actors from the pilot - Maury Chaykin, Greg Germann, Matt Frewer - either disappeared entirely or make only sporadic appearances in later episodes. Lately I find myself doing other things while the show is on, and this week I missed the first 10 minutes and it didn't seem to affect my understanding or enjoyment of the episode in any way.

The problem with Eureka is that it sets itself up as quirky and whimsical, but the comedy is mostly leaden and the plots are all tired sci-fi cliches. A small town full of oddball scientists should be a place with infinite potential, but each episode feels like a pale recycling of the last. And the tacked-on conspiracy storyline smacks of trying to cash in on the popularity of serialized genre shows. I'd love for Sci Fi to come up with a lighthearted show as an effective counterpoint to the relentless grimness of Battlestar Galactica, but Eureka is so far from BSG's quality that it isn't even in the same galaxy.

Three Moons Over Milford (ABC Family, Sundays, 8 p.m.) has an even better concept that it squanders even more completely. The show posits a world in which an asteroid has splintered the moon into three pieces, and people expect the world may end any day now. Although the post-apocalyptic is a familiar device in sci-fi (and CBS's upcoming Jericho explores life in a small town after a nuclear war), the pre-apocalyptic is something much less common (the one example I can think of off-hand is the 1998 Canadian film Last Night, which I also thought was better in concept than in execution). The idea of exploring how society would function if people expected the world to end at any moment but it was also possible that it would go on indefinitely is fascinating to me, but Milford just uses it as a background device to give its characters excuses to be extra wacky. Whenever someone does something slightly offbeat, they just say, "three moons," as if that explains it all, and otherwise the concept is rarely even referenced. Instead it's just another boring, low-rent ABC Family show, with a town full of breezy, goofy characters in the vein of Gilmore Girls, only not nearly as clever. Allegedly it gets better, and like Eureka it's got some interesting actors - Nora Dunn is a regular, and guest stars include Barry Bostwick and Ed Begley Jr. - but at this point it's barely holding my interest.

Still, for now I keep watching, and I think of it like aspirational viewing - maybe somehow my hopes and dreams for the ideal really cool and interesting shows with these concepts will come into being. That probably isn't going to happen, though, and once the fall season starts in earnest, these shows are off my viewing radar - as if I'd even consider watching something like Eureka over Veronica Mars.

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