Sunday, October 14, 2007

The end of The Nine & Drive

Two victims of last season's glut of serialized dramas, both Fox's Drive and ABC's The Nine developed tiny but devoted cult followings despite dismal ratings and scheduling inconsistencies. I was a fan of both shows, watching them in their initial brief runs and then waiting patiently for them to return for the promised burn-offs of unaired episodes after they had been canceled. Drive aired four episodes on Fox this past spring before being pulled; the remaining two installments were scheduled and rescheduled several times until finally being pulled altogether. You can still watch all six episodes on the Drive MySpace page, but only the four episodes that aired are available for sale on iTunes.

The Nine fared a little better, airing seven episodes on ABC last fall before getting pulled; it remained in production for the entire 13-episode order, and returned to ABC's schedule in August. Only two episodes aired at that point, though, before the show was once again pulled thanks to low ratings, and the last four episodes were posted on ABC's website. (They're no longer there, but you can buy all 13 episodes on iTunes.) Although neither show achieves resolution in the remaining episodes that were posted online, it was still satisfying to see a bit more of the story, as well as disappointing to imagine what could have been.

I'm not mourning the loss of these shows like I was CBS's Smith, another show that played out online before stopping abruptly. They both have intriguing but inherently limited premises, and The Nine at least started showing its cracks by the end of its 13-episode run. I always found the current-day stories, following the lives of nine people who were hostages in a 52-hour stand-off at a bank, more interesting than the flashbacks to the group's ordeal at the hands of two robbers, and felt that the plot twists related to the initial robbery often seemed a little contrived. As the show went on, there were episodes that offered no revelations about the robbery itself, but were still fascinating in how they explored the different ways people continued their lives after such a traumatic event.

The cast, including reliable TV stalwarts like Tim Daly, Chi McBride and Kim Raver, made the characters into people you could easily care about, and as time went on the constant references back to the robbery started feeling forced. In the later episodes, it seemed like the writers were inventing new twists simply because the show had promised shocking developments, and the revelation in the final episode that one of the most sympathetic main characters had a hand in the robbery seemed to me unnecessarily damaging. If the show had continued, I think its premise might have become more and more like a noose, hampering the storytelling possibilities for the very interesting characters. The 13 episodes don't exactly offer closure, but they provide an ambiguous ending of sorts, and are worth checking out for fans of both involving character drama and serialized entertainment.

Drive never had the dramatic weight of The Nine; it was always more pulpy and more preposterous, but it was plenty of fun to watch while it lasted, and the final two installments continued that path. The story of an illegal cross-country road race, it was from the start absurd and unbelievable, but the likable cast (also filled with dependable TV veterans, like Nathan Fillion, Kristin Lehman and Dylan Baker) and the clever writing kept it entertaining. This was a show that needed its ridiculous and shocking twists to keep going, and provided them with style. The two unaired episodes raise more questions than they answer, presenting mysteries that would presumably have been solved had the show continued. Obviously once the race was over and a winner declared (as well as the details about the nefarious conglomerate behind the race revealed), it would have been tough for there to be a second season. In a way, maybe, it's better with these shows to be left wondering what might have been rather than watching them fill in the blanks with unsatisfying answers.

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