Sunday, September 25, 2005

new television show: Threshold

Fridays, 8 pm Central, CBS

Touted as being the best of the crop of alien shows this year, Threshold has a decidedly X-Files feel to it. But, an extraordinary premise requires extraordinary writing to give the series legs.

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The series centers around an alien signal that was first encountered with a naval ship, the Bighorn. A small team of civillian experts, headed by Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey (Carla Gugino), who wrote a series of protocols that should be followed in the event of an alien encounter. She is overseen by team member Cavennaugh (Brian Van Holt), a goverment agent who is supposed to provide the protection and who reports to J.T. Baylock (Charles S. Dutton), the Deputy National Security Advisor. Peter Dinklage plays the dry witted Arthur Ramsey, the math specialist who is also keenly interested in womanizing and drinking. Brent Spiner plays forensic microbiologist Nigel Fenway a relectant team member. Rob Benedict is astronomical engineer Lucas Pegg, a seemingly shy person.

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Dr. Caffrey and Cavennaugh

The ship contains dead, physically distorted bodies and one crazed survivor. The team finds and watches a video tape of the alien "craft", which is some type of four-dimensional device that pulsates with light and continuously folds in on itself, while emitting a sound like knives sharpening themeslves. In the lab, the mysterious fractal pattern that shows up on the ship's electronic scopes, is analyzed and reveals a triple-helix DNA pattern. The sounds from the video tape end up affecting those who are exposed to it with strange dreams about being in a glass forest.

At the end of the first episode, we discover that the sounds from the video tape, used to try to trap some of the missing shipmates, who made it to shore, ended up attracting many of the townsfolk.

Threshold occaisionally borders on the downright silly. The crazed survivor jumps off the ship and appears in Dr. Caffrey's house shortly thereafter. Before jumping, he gets shots several times, enough to kill any human or alien-controlled human. Blood congeals into the mysterious fractal pattern. The traffic jam at the end of the first episode, when see from above, has the cars in the fractal pattern. Okay, we get it! There's an intelligent alien prescence that is set to wipe out people by attempting to modify their DNA. Or maybe, wipe out certain people while making others invincible pawns of the aliens?

Episode two centered around a janitor from a military college who went bezerk in a fast food joint and then had his face implode in the bathroom. Either the alien signal reappeared in the vacinity or the man was somehow connected to the ill-fated crew aboard the Bighorn ship. Official records indicated no aircraft or other ships in the area at the time of the encounter with the Bighorn. More accurate records indicated that a plan was flying in the area. The passenger manifest is checked against the list of students and staff at the school. Through some detective work and a hunch, a match is made. The kid is visited and admits that some strange "spyware" appeared on his laptop as he was burning a CD on the flight - the fractal pattern. Back at the dorm, he had some problems with the laptop but the janitor and a few others tried to help out.

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Peter Dinklage as Dr. Arthur Ramsey

Later on it is discovered that the fractal signal doesn't affect pre-pubescents. One the older students, however, becomes infected and tries to upload the signal to the Internet, to spread it world-wide. In the end, he's captured and held in a secret prision, while his family is told that he died heroicially saving the life of a fellow student in a fire. This sort of grand lie is something that you would expect from X-Files. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of this captured but alien-infected young man.

Of course, there are lots of plot holes. How many other people aboard the flight had their laptops, ipods or other electronic devices capture the alien signal? If the older student wanted to quietly upload the signal, why didn't he just visit a cyber cafe or hi-fi hotspot in the neighborhood?

I'm still interested in watching this series since the story just continues on and on rather than neatly wrapping up with some far fetched conclusion. There appears to be a bit of romantic interest between Dr. Caffrey and Cavennaugh and I wonder if the writers will make it an unspoken mutual attraction, like what we had with Mulder and Scully.

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