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Second Gear: Another Look at FOX's "Drive"

Sometimes I am a glutton for punishment, especially when it comes to a television show that I really do want to like but, for whatever reason, just doesn't meet my expectations. I know I shouldn't keep watching, but I keep giving the program in question one more chance to lure me in and win me over.

Such is the current battle I'm engaged in with FOX's new drama Drive. More than anything, I really did want to like this freshman series, even after announcements that FOX would be splitting the season into two puzzle pieces. After all, it has an amazing cast, populated by some of my favorite actors: Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Amy Acker (Angel), Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures), etc. And it was co-created by Tim Minear, a longtime Joss Whedon collaborator who has brought us some memorable--if short-lived--series such as Firefly and Wonderfalls.

Right? Right?

After seeing various versions of the pilot over the past few months (the original with Ivan Sergei in the Nathan Fillion role, the one-hour version with Fillion, the two-hour double episode that aired Sunday night), I still wasn't convinced by the show, which failed to catch me with its highly improbable and mind-boggling logic about a secret, illegal underground race and a mysterious cabal of people who coerce players by a Machiavellian strategy of kidnapping loved ones and the other players who just seem to want to be there to a win a $32 million prize.

I tuned in last night to the third episode of Drive ("Let the Games Begin") in a last-ditch effort to see if I would quit this thing cold turkey or keep filling up my TiVo with episodes that I would never watch. Sadly, I have to report that last night's episode again left me cold. Sure, we got to see frequent Minear associate Katie Finneran (Wonderfalls, The Inside) pop up as the sister of Alex Tully (Fillion) and I do love the rapport between father and daughter John and Violet (Dylan Baker and Emma Stone). Kevin Alejandro's Winston Salazar has even grown on me... if only he would stop using the word "homes" in literally every other line of dialogue. (Seriously.)

But no matter how many times I tune into Drive, there are still things that manage to get under my skin each and every time: the Lost-style flashbacks, the check-your-brain-at-the-door loopiness of the series' race, with its checkpoints and murders, and the fact that nearly every single person the racers encounter on the road is in some way connected to the race. Sure, Beth Grant's diner waitress was a hoot, but if the race's organizers seem to have the sort of constant surveillance necessary to guarantee that the racers would come into THAT particular diner at that particular time or break down alongside that road, why don't they seem to know that Corinne (Kristin Lehman) has stolen a flash drive containing the race's secrets? Or that Alex has kidnapped one of their enforcers and held him prisoner in his motel room bathtub?

The special effects are also, at times, shockingly lousy. For every jaw-dropping car crash (like the brilliant one at the beginning of episode 2), there are the amateurish fade in/fade outs from each car, or the grade school CGI rocket, or the hokey opening credits.

It's also the fact that the characters accept without question everything that they're told; last night, Alex was abducted, beaten, and questioned by a lunatic highway patrolman (who wasn't really a law enforcement officer in the end) and given the exact car he had as a wastrel gang member back in the day. I mean the SAME car. He accepts this "gift" without question and instantly transforms from the mild-mannered landscape gardener into a vicious speed demon.

Unlike Lost, where the characters accept the weirdness of the situation that they're in (even if they don't ask the right questions--for the audience--at the right times), Drive's racers don't bat an eyelash about the peculiarities of this cross-country race; the entire experience appears to strike them as entirely normal. At least John fessed up to Violet about the fact that they were even in a race to begin with; that sort of mindless aversion of reality was even more off-putting and unbelievable.

Ultimately, I can't go along with the "deepening mysteries" of Drive and the motivations of the players and their handlers, especially when there's no exploration and definition of our characters. The mysteries on Lost work because we trust in the characters and their shifting situation was originally based in something as possible as it was extraordinary (surviving a plane crash). Here, however, they are thrust on top of a shaky foundation of vague characterizations and an insistence that--trust us, we're creators!--all will be revealed later.

Sadly, I've taken this cross-country road trip for a spin around the block more than once and the only thing I can do now is to shift Drive firmly into park.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Gilmore Girls (CW); George Lopez/George Lopez (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search of the Next Doll (CW); Dancing with the Stars (ABC); House (FOX)

10 pm: 48 Hours Mystery (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: American Idol.

The seven remaining contestants compete after getting coached by Martina McBride but, with Sanjaya *STILL* in the mix, I'm more than over American Idol already.

8 pm: Gilmore Girls.

I've given up on this once-great drama, but for the few of you out there still watching, here's what's going on. On tonight's episode ("Hay Bale Maze"), Rory brings Logan to Stars Hollow for the annual spring festival, leading her to question her future with Logan. Oy, really, more questioning? Sigh.


Anonymous said…
I loved Firefly (and even The Inside) but I could not watch this garbage. Gave it 2 shots like you but it just didn't make any sense to keep watching.
The CineManiac said…
I actually am enjoying Drive. Yes you have to suspend disbelief but you have to do that with most shows including 24 (which supposedly is back on top although I haven't watched it in 4 weeks)
Sure Drive isn't the greatest show ever, but I'm enjoying the intrigue of it all. I guess maybe because I do have an affinity for both Minear and Fillion's work my will to like the show makes it better than it might actually be. But I'm holding out hope that it will quickly live up to my expectations.
Anonymous said…
I am reminded of the first season of Buffy, painful at times, but definetly worth the pain to get to the next 6 seasons. I am actually enjoying Drive. It's no Buffy or Firefly, but it's better than most of the crap that's on tv.
Anonymous said…
Drive has it's moments (usually with some of the better actors, like Fillion) but, ultimately, I just can't get over the ridiculous premise. An illegal car race across the country? Sure. But a race where they kidnap loved ones or, hell, kidnap the drivers and interrogate them in a fake police station to stir up some long lost speed demon? It's just too much.
The CineManiac said…
Anonymous brings up a good point, sometimes shows that don't start out wonderfully grow and become some of the best shows on tv.
Just look at Buffy, Seinfeld, and even Friends.
None of these shows hit their stride for some time, especially Seinfeld which really didn't hit it's make until the 4th season when all the episodes started to interlock.
Yet more and more it seems like networks cancel shows before they even give them a chance.
And Fox does this more than most (Firefly, Wonderfalls, & The Inside to name just 3, all of which like Drive were co-created by Tim Minear) which makes me fear Drive will never have the chance is deserves to hit it's stride.
Anonymous said…
I have made it halfway through the 2-hour that aired Sunday. So far, I am definitely intrigued, and want to keep watching, but I already have so many questions/problems. Still, seems like a good enough diversion, so far, and I would watch Captain Tightpants do anything.

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