by Paula R. Stiles
You know something’s not so great when the written promotion for a show sounds intriguing and the previews suck. You could tell Warehouse 13, a series about two FBI agents reassigned to a warehouse of cursed objects in South Dakota, was supposed to be Indiana-Jonesish, not just from the promotion but from the scheduling of National Treasure right before it and The Mummy a few days later.
If this were National Treasure or The Mummy (or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Friday The 13th – The Series), I wouldn’t mind. I love this kind of premise, and all four of those series. I’ve even enjoyed cheesy TV-movies along the same theme like I’m Dangerous Tonight. Alas, this kind of story requires charming leads, or at least fun villains. It lacks both. Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock), is a bland, womanizing, would-be “maverick” FBI agent who tries hard (and fails) to be a cross between James Bond and Fox Mulder. His colleague Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) is uptight, a perfectionist, and incompetent in the way that TV likes to write female professionals. I couldn’t believe they actually had Lattimer tell her to “unbunch your panties” at one point. Well, no, I could. I just wish they hadn’t gone there. To top it all off, Bering’s being haunted by the ghost of a dead colleague/lover, which makes her seem irrational in addition to being a professional virgin. Nice.
In the first fifteen minutes, we have Lattimer trying (and failing) to stop some annoying mad scientist (who, even more annoyingly, turns out to be their new boss, Artie Nielsen, played by Saul Rubinek). Meanwhile, upstairs, Bering inexplicably gets a commendation for getting herself taken hostage by a guy on whom she has a loaded gun. This is one major cliché that I really, really wish could be zapped right off of TV. Who truly believes that if someone is holding a loaded gun aimed straight at a man’s head, the gender of the gun-holder affects in the least whether or not that gun will go off?
It doesn’t help that this is the only remotely exciting thing that happens for the next hour.
A story like this also requires cool props and an interesting setting. Well…there aren’t any. The low-tech, Edwardian cell phone and Tesla version of a memory-wiping TASER don’t leap out, either in function or design (see The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne for how it’s done right). Naturally, these gizmos never work when you need them. The warehouse looks like a rusting oil tanker sitting in the middle of an abandoned quarry (note to the producers–Ontario does not look like the Badlands of South Dakota). The inside is vaguely steampunkish, but the show manages to kill any Jules-Verneian sensawunda by filming everything in the same orange-y cinematography that made SciFi’s version of Flash Gordon’s Mongo such a snooze. How can you screw up Indiana Jones’ warehouse and Flash Gordon’s Mongo? Ask the SciFi (sorry, SyFy) Channel. They’ve figured it out.
Things do liven up in the last forty minutes (once the two agents finally get an assignment and go out on the road to a town that doesn’t look like an industrial wasteland). The cursed Italian object that makes a whole town crazy isn’t a very original concept, but it’s presented well enough. Just a pity that it takes so frakkin’ long to get there. I’d have hoped to like a show that cast Michael Boatman as a professor in the Italian Renaissance a lot more, but then they didn’t do much with his character. I don’t know if I’ll try for next week. The storytelling is flabby and I really do not like the leads.
Sadly, I know someone who has been writing a series of short stories for years about a similar premise (a museum of magically-cursed objects in D.C.), but with much more interesting characters and objects. Now, regardless of how this drecky TV show fares, she will probably have considerable difficulty selling her series because everyone will assume she stole the idea from this show.
I have a bad feeling Warehouse 13 is an indication of things to come with “SyFy’s” latest rebranding.