TV loves fish out of water stories. Good storytelling, comic or dramatic, depends on conflict, and the fish out of water scenario creates easy conflict. Jewish snob from Manhattan stuck in rural Alaska? Done; “Northern Exposure” writes itself. Honest, polite Canadian Mountie assigned to work with a gruff cop in Chicago? Done; all “Due South” really needed was Paul Gross and that uniform (though it had more). Poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks gets taken in by a wealthy Orange County family? Done; add some indie-rock and you have “The O.C.”
The trick that those shows and all the others like them understood is that the fish out of water story needs either an interesting fish or an interesting body of water, and preferably both. If you”re going to relocate a boring person to a boring place, why bother at all?
No one, unfortunately, revealed that lesson to the creators of “Haven” (which debuts on Syfy on Friday at 10 p.m.) and “The Glades” (Sunday at 10 p.m. on A&E). Both are bland stories of bland crimefighters transplanted to locales that are supposed to seem exotic and mostly come across as anything but.
“Haven” is an adaptation, sort of, of “The Colorado Kid,” a Stephen King novella in which the two elderly editors at a small-town Maine newspaper regale their eager new intern with the story of the town”s greatest unsolved mystery – a mystery that remains unsolved at the end of the book. In the series, there”s still a small Maine town, and the two newspapermen have small supporting roles, and we even see a headline about The Colorado Kid in an old edition of the paper, but now the focus is on FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose), who gets sent to Haven on the trail of a fugitive and discovers both supernatural doings (this being a show on The Channel Formerly Known as Sci Fi) and a link to her own past.
The series plays off the familiar fish out of water tropes – Audrey, for instance, is baffled by that wacky Maine weather – while playing within a familiar Syfy formula. (As in the pilot episode for “Eureka,” which also has some fish playing out of water, Audrey gets into a car wreck on her way into town.) But neither the town nor Rose particularly come to life, and the supporting cast so far is limited to a genial but dull local cop (Lucas Bryant) and a local hustler (Eric Balfour at his most Eric Balfour-iest – which is to say that the character is defined entirely by Balfour”s smirk and facial hair).
Perhaps when we get deeper into the series and learn more about the town”s secrets, there might be a show here, but the pilot mainly seems to be setting up a Freak of the Week structure that isn”t even very entertaining the first time out. And Rose (whom I”ve liked in smaller roles on shows like “ER” and “John From Cincinnati”) doesn”t have the charisma to carry a show on her own.
Still, at least “Haven” is on-brand for Syfy, even if it feels like a cheap knockoff compared to “Eureka” or “Warehouse 13.” I”m not exacty sure what the point of “The Glades” is, both as a show and as one of A&E”s occasional dips into the world of scripted programming.
Matt Passmore, an Australian actor whom you might have seen when WE imported “McLeod”s Daughters” a while back, plays Jim Longworth, a Chicago cop run out of town after his boss shot him for allegedly sleeping with his wife. (Longworth claims that he was the only one in the precinct not sleeping with her.) So now he works as a cop in south Florida, and when his depressed new partner asks him, “Did you ever not want to be anywhere?” he replies, “Here. I hate it here… But the golf is great.”
That line aside, Longworth never seems particularly unhappy to be out in the sunshine. He never seems to express any emotion at all, in fact, except for smugness. He is a man in love with himself and his own cleverness, and while some actors can pull that off and seem charming (see Hugh Laurie on “House,” or Dominic West on “The Wire”), Passmore is unfortunately not one of them.
There isn”t much of a culture clash here – Longworth comes across as the kind of guy who would annoy the people he works with in rain or shine, sand or snow – and while I”d rather not see the show force the fish out of water tropes if it doesn”t want to, there”s nothing there without them. We”re just stuck with a jerk in a pretty but not particularly noteworthy locale.
These shows are, so far, two trips not worth taking.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org