A Casual TV Fan's Guide
Eureka: Season One, part one
Rated: N/A :: Air dates: 2006
By Dan Toland
19 June 2008 — Every once in a great while, despite a nearly superhuman commitment to do so, the Sci Fi Channel forgets to suck. This usually tends to happen at 9:00 PM Tuesday nights during summer rerun season. (Well, there's also Who Wants to Be a Superhero, which happens to be the greatest reality train wreck in the history of humankind, and is entertaining on an entirely different level of schadenfreude. But I digress.)
Eureka: Season One
Episodes / DVDs: 12 episodes on three DVDs
Starring: Colin Ferguson as Sheriff Jack Carter, Salli Richardson-Whitfield as Dr. Alison Blake, Joe Morton as Dr. Henry Deacon, Jordan Hinson as Zoe Carter, Ed Quinn as Dr. Nathan Stark
Featuring: Erica Cerra as Deputy Jo Lupo, Matt Frewer as Jim Taggart, Debrah Farentino as Dr. Beverly Barlow, Neil Grayston as Dr. Douglas Fargo
US Marshall Jack Carter is the new sheriff of the small town of Eureka, Oregon, a top-secret community of the best and brightest scientific minds in the world. The creators of every scientific advance of the past 50 years, Eureka is depicted as a bucolic suburban ideal, which happens to be bloated with technology decades in advance of anywhere else on the planet. Naturally, with technology this advanced and residents with such scientific abilities and drive, something manages to go catastrophically wrong every week or so.
Eureka is a rarity in visual science fiction: a show that emphasizes the science. It's something that sci-fi used to strive for, but very rarely is: imaginative and smart. It asks "What if?" and takes the time to puzzle out the answer before presenting it to the audience. The state of science fiction in television and movies is not ideal right now; what passes for science fiction is "the army in space," "Die Hard on Mars" or any other generic action movie with space and aliens grafted on. Eureka, in contrast, presents stories that could have been published by John W. Campbell, Jr. in Astounding Science Fiction. It's surprisingly literate and intelligent, and brought to you by the network that gave you Mansquito.
A big part of the show's appeal, however, is the cast. Colin Ferguson, an improv comedian and actor formerly with Second City, is the heart of the show as Sheriff Carter — a perfectly average, ordinary man surrounded by (and having to keep up with) an entire town filled with geniuses. Outside of Eureka, Carter would be a clever policeman of about average intelligence; inside, he might as well be wearing a helmet and mittens. Ferguson sells the frustration of trying to understand everything that goes on around him, the impatience with some of the scientists' quirks and eccentricities, plus the cleverness and cunning that led him to being put in charge of this town in the first place. He's never going to build a tachyon accelerator, but he has buckets of common sense, which is something most of the townsfolk lack.
Other than Ferguson, the best thing about this show is Joe Morton as Henry Deacon, a jack-of-all-trades who serves as coroner / forensic scientist / town crier / mechanic. Morton is one of those actors who radiates intelligence from every pore. He just seems right as arguably the most intelligent man in a town filled with scary-intelligent people. He's especially good in his scenes with Ferguson; he knows and understands that Carter just isn't as smart as himself, and he goes out of his way not to patronize him, but that little flash of impatience at always having to explain everything is just below the surface. On top of that, he's funny and warm, and when he gets the opportunity to show what he can do, he acts circles around everyone else.
The Eureka: Season One box set contains all 12 episodes from the 2006 season. There's at least one commentary on every episode, and almost all of them feature Colin Ferguson, who is clearly having the time of his life on this show. The episodes are presented in the order in which they aired; clearly not in the order intended by the producers, but most of them are self-contained enough that it doesn't really make much of a difference.
Writers: Andrew Cosby and Jaime Paglia
Guest starring: Maury Chaykin as Sheriff William Cobb, Greg Germann as Prof. Warren King
The Plot: Passing through town while escorting his runaway daughter home, US Marshall Jack Carter is caught up in efforts to prevent a scientist's newly created tachyon accelerator from unraveling time when the town's sheriff is hurt. Two-hour pilot episode.
Good Stuff: The pilot does its job of setting up the series pretty well. Most of the characters hit the ground running (with the exception of Salli Richardson-Whitfield as Allison Blake, who is going to take a few episodes to really find the character), and the emphasis on hard science fiction is evident in the very first scene.
And that science is good. I've always been fascinated by science, although I just don't have the head for it — but if you need someone to explain the principles of medieval European history, I'm your man. I can follow it as an interested amateur, though. I know what a tachyon is, for example, and can therefore create some idea of what a tachyon accelerator would do. So while it would be the easiest thing in the world to use "tachyon" as a cool sciency buzzword and descend into technobabble (the way most shows would), the writers do the work to explain the science of the piece in a way the average person can understand while still trying to keep it relatively realistic. The effort goes a long way in selling the concept of a whole town filled with smart people.
Not So Good Stuff: Greg Germann is totally wrong here. He just doesn't gel with the rest of the cast at all. Small wonder he was replaced.
Random Observations: The series hasn't quite hit its tone yet; the town is a bit more sinister and less "gee-whiz" than the show will quickly establish.
This episode features Greg Germann (Ally McBeal) as Warren King, the head of Global Dynamics, the main laboratory and manufacturing facility in Eureka. He's gone next week with no explanation. This week also features Maury Chaykin (Nero Wolfe) as Sheriff Cobb, Jack's predecessor. He does a great job as a small-town sheriff for the world's oddest small town. He had to go, obviously, for the show to get rolling, but I would have liked some more time with him.
Overall: The tone is off from the rest of the season; it's not as lighthearted as most of the episodes in the set, but Ed Quinn's arrival as Stark next week will help fix that. This is a wonderfully imaginative two hours that introduces the main characters, and guides the viewer through a truly unique world, earning it an 8.5 out of 10.
Many Happy Returns
Writers: Jamie Paglia and Andrew Cosby
The Plot: Following the funeral of one of Eureka's top scientists and his wife, Carter and Allison are unsure how to handle it when the wife appears, considerably less dead than she had been the day before — and unaware of anything that's happened to her over the past several years. Meanwhile, what appears to be a ghost begins appearing all over Eureka.
Good Stuff: The guest cast is good. Jennifer Clement impresses as Susan Perkins, but more importantly, Zak Ludwig is wonderful as the couple's young son. He manages not to grate or annoy at all. Which is more than can be said for Meschach Peters as Kevin, Allison's autistic son. He's actually nowhere near as bad here as he will be in the second season, but that's a rant for another day.
The ghost is hella creepy. As are Kevin's drawn renditions of it.
Neil Grayston's march toward television immortality begins here. Douglas Fargo is one of the best characters to come on TV in the past decade, and I will fight any man who says otherwise.
This episode introduces SARAH, Sheriff Carter's "smart house." For the most part, SARAH is just background noise, but "she" has some good moments here and her scene with Ferguson at the end is priceless.
Not So Good Stuff: Not much. Allison got on my nerves a little bit, but not so much that it ruined my enjoyment of the episode.
Random Observations: This is the first appearance of Ed Quinn as Nathan Stark, Allison's estranged husband and the new head of Global Dynamics. Quinn isn't the best actor in the world, but he's extremely charismatic, and has wonderful chemistry with Ferguson. He's played up as the villain of the series, but he's not evil at all; he's just egocentric, obsessive and almost monomaniacal in his pursuit of information regarding the Artifact, a powerful, otherworldly object resting in the bowels of the top-secret Section 5. He's also a top administrator, a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and truly cares for Allison and her son. He brings a wonderful deadpan air of condescension in his dealings with Carter, who he's convinced is borderline retarded, and never misses an opportunity to cut Carter down. It's a fantastic, multilayered role, and Quinn runs away with it. He also may be the only person in Canada taller than Colin Ferguson.
Overall: The actual combining of comedy and suspense is really tough. This episode does it extremely well. There's really not a misstep in the hour other than, again, some of Allison's scenes, specifically those with Susan Perkins. On the whole, though, great episode: 9 out of 10.
Before I Forget
Story: Karl Schaefer
Writer: John Rogers
The Plot: A pair of Henry's old friends arrive in Eureka to work on a force field for the military. While this is going on, people begin to experience lost time and memory lapses.
Good Stuff: Henry-centric episodes are always good.
There's a very effective cold open.
Again, the guest cast is great. Andrew Airlie (Reaper) is appropriately oily, and Tamlyn Tomita (24, JAG) has wonderful chemistry with Joe Morton. Also, Samuel Patrick Chu (who annoyed me into a state of rage on an episode of Flash Gordon last year) is a riot as Putnam, the child-director of Zoe's school play. (As a small touch, the posters for the play look like B-grade movie posters straight out of the 1950s. They're great.)
Carter: I know you have a device that can create a wormhole or bend time or make you invisible — a worm-holing-time-bending-invisibling device that shields you from the mind.
Stark: Yes, he said invisibling.
Not So Good Stuff: Jordan Hinson is always delightful as Zoe Carter. Shakespeare? Not so much.
When they explain why whatever's happening is happening, on the surface it makes sense. If you stop and think about it for a minute, however, it falls apart a little bit. "Well, if this works this certain way, then it shouldn't be able to go back and do all these other things."
Overall: A good episode with some high concepts, some of which were just tossed in for the sake of building the world. It's certainly the least strong episode on the disc, but it's up against stiff competition: 8 out of 10.
Disc one is excellent. Three strong episodes kick things off, and the vast majority of the special features are on this disc as well (including a set of webisodes that, unfortunately, really aren't very good).
Story: Varina Bleil and Betsy Landis
Writers: Harry Victor and Dan E. Fesman
The Plot: A politician comes to Eureka looking for a reason to slash its budget, just in time to be targeted by supporting cast members on the hunt for aliens in disguise. (Honestly, this town's timing sucks pretty regularly.)
Good Stuff: Seriously, why isn't Matt Frewer in way more stuff?
The episode is structured in such a way that about halfway though, you have no idea what the hell's going on, but in the way that makes you want to figure it out. Not the way that makes you want to turn it off and spend time with your family.
Not So Good Stuff: I think this must have been earmarked for an earlier slot, because Jo Lupo is having a major snit about her new boss. It would have been irritating enough earlier in the season, but here it's not only obnoxious, it doesn't make sense.
Garwin Sanford, playing Congressman Faraday, has his "I'm a grumpy politician" pants on. Even if you haven't seen the episode, I have to assume you can picture the performance.
The ending's pretty anticlimactic.
Overall: When it comes to the writing, this isn't the best episode, but the idea is interesting and the plot moves along. The story's better than the actual teleplay; sometimes you can tell when an episode is plotted and written separately, and this is one of those times: 6.5 out of 10.
Writer: Dan E. Fesman
Guest starring: Saul Rubinek as Dr. Carl Carlson
The Plot: An accident turns an OCD freak show into an invulnerable superman.
Good Stuff: Saul Rubinek (Frasier, the TNG episode "The Most Toys") is an amazing actor, and he takes what should be the most irritating character in television history and makes him sympathetic.
Salli Richardson-Whitfield is finding Allison's character. She's settling in by this point and bouncing off the other actors (particularly Ferguson) pretty well.
There's an awesome commercial break at 15:30.
Not So Good Stuff: Carlson is, as I said, a definite contender for the most irritating character in television history.
There are way too many "heads on a stick" in Carlson's lab. Just... ewww.
Random Observations: It got touched on last episode, but the show's love affair with the Artifact subplot is really getting ramped up here. As of this writing (well after the end of the second season), I'm still waiting for this subplot to become remotely interesting to me. The show is one of the best on TV when it focuses on the people and plots, but it's far less successful when it's trying to make us care about this thing. (It gets much more pronounced later on, but that is yet another rant.)
Overall: A decent episode with some good performances by the regulars, and a fantastic guest turn by Rubinek. The first half is much stronger than the second, when it becomes less of a character story and more of an exercise in building the show's mythology: 7 out of 10.
Disc two is... not finished yet. The layout of the episodes is all screwed up; there are almost as many episodes on the second disc as there are on the other two discs combined. However, in the interest of keeping this week's column to a reasonable length, and making sure next week isn't half as long, I'm gonna cut it off here for now. I'll be back next week to finish things off. Be good.