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Second Helpings: FOX's "Vanished"

One of my favorite annual pastimes is going through the following season's pilots and trying to figure out which ones I'll watch and which ones I'll skip. There's certainly no science to it and much of it is really just my gut reaction to the material and that little voice in the back of my head asking me whether or not I'd watch the series.

But the true test of a series isn't necessarily the pilot. In fact, more often than not, it's the second episode that's the real indication of whether or not I plan on investing my time with a particular series. On that note, I sat down Monday evening to watch the second episode of FOX's missing woman conspiracy drama Vanished. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I ended up liking the pilot, which--like its second episode--was directed by Mimi Leder.

Here's what I had to say about the original pilot I watched back in June: "Created by Josh Berman (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) and directed by Mimi Leder (John Doe, Deep Impact), the pilot is beautifully shot and gripping. While I had initially thought that Sara's disappearance would turn into a 24-style political/espionage thriller, the Da Vinci Code-esque religious clues scattered throughout take this series into an entirely surprising and unexpected direction. Something bigger is going on here than mere political vendettas and I wonder if Vanished will wrap it up in one season (a la the aforementioned 24) or if the Berman and Co. have plotted the series beyond Year One."

Hmm. I appear to have liked it. But then I tuned in Monday night...

As I said earlier, a second episode is always the true test of a series and here Vanished failed miserably. Instead of a smart, slick conspiracy caper, I found a sodden mess of histrionics and cheesy dialogue. Obviously, none of these serialized dramas are based in any way in reality and one must take these series with a huge ball of salt, but still, I want some resemblance to the logic of the universe to take shape. Or, at the least, I'd like to make it through a supposedly "serious" drama without laughing my butt off.

In Vanished, CSIs find valuable forensic information--a bloody handprint here, a torn scrap of dress there--in the record time of five whole seconds within arriving at the scene. One little shine of an ultraviolet light and--BOOM!--we're in business and up and running. A look at the blueprints of a labyrinthine tunnel network reveals there's a passageway right where they're standing and before you know it Graham (Gale Harold) takes off without a so much as a by-your-leave from his superior officer to play last action hero. (The less said about the fact that, following an explosion, he doesn't even bother to check on his colleagues the better.)

While Graham struck me as a bit of a cipher in the pilot, producers haven't done anything here to make him a more fully developed character and Harold sort of sleepwalks through his scenes in a short sleeve shirt and tie combo that held more amusement for me than the entire episode itself. Remember that missing mayor's wife who turned up at the end of the pilot seemingly frozen for the last few years? Her husband shows up to identify the body, Graham accuses him of killing her (he owns an orchard with refrigeration units!) and he promptly blows his brains out. But Graham doesn't seem all that perturbed by the suicide; in fact, his reaction is more akin to being rather frustrated at all the paperwork he's going to have to deal with...

Meanwhile, the Senator's bratty daughter Marcy (Margarita Levieva) suspects that her boyfriend Ben (Christopher Egan) may be involved in the disappearance of Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly) and therefore drives around Atlanta in a daze, refusing to go see her father, and even sleeping in her car (why exactly, we're not sure, when she has plenty of money to check into a hotel), before stopping off for a lemonade when she thinks that she's being followed by secret service... or FBI... or someone else. And--quelle surprise!--we're treated to that old familiar scene where someone gets into their car only to discover (shock, horror!) that there's someone else in there! Someone who takes that large bag of cash Marcy left sitting on the passenger seat (she's never heard of a trunk?), but not the bloody shirt that she so desperately hopes doesn't contain the blood of her missing step-mother. The goon issues an appropriately cryptic remark before departing, leaving Marcy shaken but not so scared that she, you know, locks the car doors or anything.

The willing suspension of disbelief is one thing but trying to suspend a belly-aching paroxysm of laughter? Not so easy. Vanished gives us a number of so cheesy it's fondue-like flashbacks that portray new cast member Josh Hopkins meeting Sara Collins for the first time back in 1994. They meet cute when she randomly steals his lunch on a dock and consumes half his sandwich in a flirtatious manner intended to make us forget why exactly this woman is wandering around the docks stealing hard-working fishermen's lunches. But Mr. Sensitive Fisherman doesn't seem to care about the innate criminality of her actions and instead wants to see her again. This being 1994, everyone is dressed in grunge and listening to the Spin Doctor's "Two Princes" (seriously!) as Mr. Sensitive Fisherman explains how when he owns his own boat someday, it will be a thing of beauty. But that's before the woman who will one day become Sara Collins vanishes the first time. While one hopes that these flashbacks are just intended to establish the connection between Sara and Josh Hopkin's character, they are so laughably bad that they instead became the televisionary equivalent of a pocketful of kryptonite.

Sorry, guys, but this is one show that just Vanished right off of my TiVo's Season Pass list.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Rock Star: Supernova (CBS); Most Outrageous Moments/Most Outrageous Moments (NBC); Blue Collar TV/Blue Collar TV (WB); George Lopez/George Lopez (ABC); Bones (FOX); Everybody Hates Chris/All of Us (UPN)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); Scrubs/Scrubs (NBC); One Tree Hill (WB); 20/20 (ABC; 9-11 pm); Justice (FOX); Girlfriends/Half and Half (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Primetime (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: Project Runway on Bravo.

I'm still shocked over Vincent's win last week, I am still excited about another new episode of my new reality fix, Project Runway. On tonight's episode, another "shocking" surprise for the designers as they are tasked to design something for a trendy jetsetter (Delta flight attendant uniforms?) while Jeffrey and Angela finally have that showdown that Runway's editors trick us into believing is going to happen each week.


Anonymous said…
I haven't read all this, cause the 2nd ep is still sitting on my tivo, but I am not optimistic....
Anonymous said…
Thank you! I felt the exact same way about Vanished on Monday night. I watched the pilot and was really excited about what was possible, but that ended on Monday night. The acting and writing was sub-par. I ended up channel surfing about 20 minutes into the episode, which was when I realized that this was a new show that I could do without. With this amazing season we have coming up (and as a college student), every hour is very valuable and I am not going to waste it with a show that couldn't hold my attention for an hour.
Todd said…
I couldn't see what you saw in the pilot (which I mostly found to be bad), but I give every serial drama at least three episodes. The fact that episode two was worse than episode one doesn't give me confidence.

I don't think creator Josh Berman has thought out the plotting of season one beyond "Wouldn't it be cool if ...".
Kevin Sole said…
It vanished off your miss list?

Wouldn't that mean it's.. on it?

Jace Lacob said…
No, as I said, it vanished off my TiVo Season Pass list.
Kevin Sole said…

My brain is rather mushy lately. Don't mind me.

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