Review: NBC’s ‘The Event’

Senior Television Writer
09.18.10 44 Comments


What is “The Event”? Forget about the actual event within the new NBC series (Monday at 9 p.m.), which the promos and the characters talk about constantly without ever offering so much as a hint about what it is. I want to know what “The Event” itself is.

Is it a globe-trotting thriller? A science-fiction show? Yet another “Lost”-esque series with a complicated mythology that its creators intend to parcel out as slowly as possible?

Or is it perhaps a secret parody of those kinds of shows?

Here’s a sample exchange of dialogue, taking place in a mysterious government facility between two characters speaking in hushed, urgent tones and using pronouns almost exclusively:

“He’s going to tell them about the event.”

“He can’t.”

“He’s going to.”

“You have to convince him to change his mind, whatever it takes.”

That’s a spoof, right?

Or take a scene where the head of the CIA (all-purpose bad guy Zeljko Ivanek) berates the President (Blair Underwood) for taking some kind of unclear action about the as-yet-unexplained event, asking him, “How are we supposed to reassure the public when we don’t have answers yet?”

That’s the show’s creative team winking at the audience, right? Just having a laugh about how impatient fans of these shows get?

Or what about a scene where a character tells the president, “I haven’t told you everything,” near the end of a pilot that’s told us nothing? The writers are just sticking their metaphorical tongues out at this point.

At least I hope they are.

Look, I know that “The Event” makes an easy punching bag because “Lost” just ended – in a manner that many of its viewers found unsatisfying – and because we’ve seen so many shows like this try and fail to succeed in the wake of “Lost.”

But the mistake “The Event” makes is less about the rate at which it chooses to explain things than about the lack of anything to care about beyond those mysteries. What made “Lost” work at the start wasn’t the mystery, but everything else: the characters, the setting, the action and scares and comedy and the rest. In fact, my initial reaction at the end of the “Lost” pilot was that it was so entertaining and filled with interesting stuff that I wasn’t sure if we needed the monster and the polar bears and other strange doings; I would have been happy for a long time just watching these people struggle to survive together in the middle of nowhere.

That show ultimately made me care about the mysteries (even if it didn’t always do a great job at solving them), but it built a foundation first and put the mysteries on top of that. The mistake that “The Event” makes – and that “FlashForward” and so many other shows like it have made before – is that it doesn’t bother with that foundation. It doesn’t bother (at least in this pilot) to give us three-dimensional characters to care about, doesn’t offer up anything of interest beyond scene after scene that invites the viewer to wonder what the hell is going on and when someone is going to step in to explain it.

There’s an airplane hijacking, and an attempt on the president’s life, and weird doings when a young couple (Jason Ritter and Sarah Roemer) go on a cruise together, but all of it feels hollow – puzzle pieces being moved around arbitrarily, without any value in and among themselves.

I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Event” does a good rating for its premiere (though given NBC’s recent struggles to launch anything, I also wouldn’t be surprised if it just holds onto the “Chuck” lead-in audience), nor would I be surprised if viewers are excited at first. Both of those things happened with “FlashForward,” too, before everyone got frustrated and turned away. The pilot is a lot of flash and no substance. It wants me to want to find out what the event is, but I don’t care, and I imagine within a week or three, neither will most of the audience.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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