Review: ‘The Event’ returns, same as it ever was

What is The Event?

I know I opened my initial review of “The Event” back in the fall with that sentence, but now my question is different. Back then, I was asking what “The Event” – as in the NBC show, which returns tonight at 8 – was, because it was hard to tell if I was meant to take it seriously, or as a parody of all the most annoying aspects of “Lost” and “24.” By now, I unfortunately know it’s meant to be taken seriously, so I’m wondering what the actual Event – as in the thing that the show’s characters keep warning us is coming, even if they won’t tell us anything about it – itself is.

Because this is getting kinda silly.

I stopped watching “The Event” after the third episode, when it became clear that A)it was playing the same irritating shell game that all these post-“Lost” sci-fi thrillers do, and B)that there wasn’t a single character I cared about remotely enough to suffer through A.

Some friends of mine stuck with, some out of weakness for anything on TV featuring aliens, some out of a perverse desire to see how long the show could drag the whole “What is The Event?” business out. Whatever their reasons, everyone agreed when the show went into a prolonged mid-season hiatus at the end of November that it was a pretty terrible show, and they would have a hard time mustering the enthusiasm to watch again come spring.

Now, “The Event” creative team had to know how their show had been received in the fall. They had to know that the enthusiasm many fans had after the first few episodes quickly waned, then turned to anger. I don’t know if they specifically knew that the two episodes that air tonight would be their first back after the long hiatus, but they had to know that they needed to turn things around in a hurry if they wanted to stop being a dead show walking. They needed to stop being cute, start actually move the story forward and, if possible, find a way to make some of the people within that story matter.

But these two episodes are more of the same, which means either the creative team was willingly blind to the reaction, or that they simply didn’t know how to fix this mess.

NBC has been running a series of ads for the show’s return that reveal more about the show’s alien characters and their agenda than anything that was actually discussed on the show in the fall. Well, guess what? It’s also more than is revealed in the two-hour return.

At one point, alien leader Sophia (Laura Innes) tells our everyman hero Sean (Jason Ritter, who looked so happy to be back on “Parenthood” last week, playing a three-dimensional character and not a rat in a maze), “I imagine you have a lot of questions.” Sean replies, “You could say that.” It’s the sort of wink at the audience’s frustration exchange that “Lost” did often in its middle seasons, but nothing of import comes out of the discussion. Worse, Sean’s girlfriend Leila (Sarah Roemer) is then forced to choose between staying with Sean and splitting up with him again, a decision that’s a false, unnecessary conflict – where the writers wanted Leila to be angsty to fill some time in an episode but couldn’t be bothered to justify it.

Other than the addition of Virginia Madsen in a recurring role as an Alaskan Senator’s widow who harasses President Martinez (Blair Underwood) about the secret military base in her district, this is basically the same silly, loud, pointless show it was in the fall. The whole thing feels reverse-engineered, where somebody came up with the “What is The Event?” tagline, then tried to build a series around it.

If the show was better, nobody would mind that we still didn’t know what The Event was. “X-Files” fans waited a long, long time to learn anything substantial about the government conspiracy, and “Lost” fans didn’t really start getting cranky about answers until the polar bear cages came out in the third season. If you tell interesting stories with compelling characters, you can test the audience’s patient for quite a while. If you’re a flat cartoon, then people will start demanding answers in lieu of actual entertainment. “The Event” offers neither – still.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at