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Secret Agents, Screwball, and Pseudo-Science: An Advance Review of Syfy's "Warehouse 13"

Tomorrow Sci Fi will morph into Syfy, dropping its generic name in favor of a unique term that can be trademarked globally as the channel rolls out its brand to territories around the world.

The metamorphosis of the channel--at least in terms of its name--will coincide with the launch of dramedy series Warehouse 13, which stars Joanne Kelley (Vanished), Eddie McClintock (Bones), and Saul Rubinek (Frasier).

Warehouse 13, executive produced by Jack Kenny and David Simkins, isn't your conventional sci-fi series, but rather a sci-fi-tinged screwball dramedy about two very mismatched Secret Service agents who are forced to work together after they are transferred to a mysterious South Dakota warehouse.

Said warehouse houses all manner of dangerous artifacts and powerful items that are best kept under lock and key. Overseen by punctilious caretaker Artie Nielsen (Rubinek), the Warehouse contains an arsenal of arcane objects that could wreak chaos in the wrong hands. It's his job--and now that of Agents Pete Lattimer (McClintock) and Myka Bering (Kelly)--to safeguard these objects, investigate cases involving possible use of relics, and bring them back to the Warehouse for safekeeping.

McClintock and Kelly are well cast as diametrically opposed Secret Service agents in the style of The X-Files' Mulder and Scully or indeed any of the screwball romantic leads of any George Cukor or Howard Hawks films. McClintock's Pete Lattimer is a guy's guy who tends to shoot first and ask questions later; he's guided by an intuition that approaches something vaguely resembling precognition or clairvoyance. He can seemingly anticipate trouble before it strikes and his investigations tend to go on gut instinct rather than brainy analysis.

His new partner, Myka Bering (Kelly), is his polar opposite. Still reeling from a scandal-inducing battle in Denver that left one agent dead (with whom, shall we say, Myka was intimate) and Myka dealing with the political and emotional fallout, Myka is all icy cold logic, as tightly wound as a clock spring. Her strength and weakness are often one and the same: precise analysis that precludes any navel-gazing.

Intuition, meet rationality.

These two mismatched partners are in fact perfectly matched in every sense of the word. There's a nice spark between McClintock's Pete and Kelly's Myka that sets them up neatly as the ideal sparring partners. But for now, their relationship is strictly professional and they fall into a pattern of wary trust with one another.

The wild card in their midst is, of course, Rubinek's manic Artie, the keeper of secrets who knows the Warehouse like the back of his hand yet still must answer to a mysterious group of overseers, embodied in the pilot episode by Mrs. Frederic (The Shield's CCH Pounder), a woman who seems to move like a wisp of smoke.

The result is something akin to a lighter version of FOX's Fringe, a series that deals with scientific advances and crimes stemming from the use of some rather strange (and often creepy) artifacts of its own, and also recalls the network's own limited series The Lost Room, which also dealt with the collection of arcane objects.

Warehouse 13 takes a more comedic tack, employing some screwball humor and fast-paced banter. It's a warmer series, in every sense of the word, and doesn't have the same bleak worldview or intensely overarching yet strangely localized mythology that Fringe does. (Although, it's worth noting that Warehouse 13 does have a mythology of its own, which will be parceled out over time, and its concept allows the team to travel to various locations each week.) And yet one can't help but want a little more oomph in the plotting, a little of Fringe's wow factor, and a sense of wonderment that's only tangentially touched upon in the opener.

Frustratingly, Warehouse 13's two-hour pilot, directed by Burn Notice's Jace Alexander, often drags at times (sometimes frustratingly so) and the initial case that Myka and Pete find themselves investigating is both confusing and unoriginal. Had it unfolded over the course of a normal-length episode, the effect may not have been the same but a far too long two-hour opener drags out the action past the breaking point.

However, there is the potential for an intriguing series to be found here. The series' subsequent episode--which runs a more typical forty-odd minutes--picks up the pace and softens Myka a little as well. She's not unlikeable in the pilot but she's also got a hell of a lot of jagged edges to her and the series's second episode ("Resonance"), which also features Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer, goes a long way to establishing Myka as a more sympathetic and multi-layered character.

That second episode also helps the series find its footing a bit more easily. It's easy to see the sticky fingerprints of multiple writers (including Brent Mote, Jane Espenson, and David Simkins) all over the pilot episode but the second installment shows the series channeling its own distinctive voice and tone, balancing scientific elements, crime-solving, and inter-character dynamics with equal weight as well as jettisoning the somewhat sluggish pace that characterized the series opener and introducing a mystery element that will likely be solved in subsequent episodes.

I hope that the series' writers explore the unnamed town that sits nearby the Warehouse, an unincorporated settlement that's as creepily off-putting as it is semi-deserted. We're introduced to local boarding house owner Leena (Genelle Williams), a woman seemingly gifted with the ability to read people's auras, in the pilot and I'm hoping that later episodes give Pete and Myka the chance to get to know some of the other locals as well.

Ultimately, Warehouse 13 feels very much like a work in progress, a barely stitched together Houdini's wallet that could in time find its magic but right now seems to need some stronger thread. I'm buoyed by the fact that the second installment is a significantly more enjoyable outing than the first and I'm hoping that the series can bring forth the wow factor that's lost somewhere in the warehouse's vast panoply of shelves.

Warehouse 13 launches with a two-hour pilot tomorrow night at 9 pm ET/PT on Syfy.


Hadley said…
Thanks for Warehouse 13 review. I'm looking forward to the series and am happy that, even if the pilot drags somewhat, the show has promise. I'm not really sure why they'd do a two hour pilot instead of just sticking with the one hour format!
AskRachel said…
The setup feels very much like X-Files or Fringe but less dark. Which could be fun as long as the softer approach doesn't water down the storylines or characters(like in Eureka).
Anonymous said…
Meh. I'll pass. Wake me up when Siffy starts showing actual SCI FI programs again.

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