La Brea, a show that drops a group of humans from contemporary LA into a primeval hellhole, debuts this week to continue a few dubious traditions. First up, the show’s premise unmistakably resembles Land of the Lost, a 1970s TV series that got an awful 1990s film reboot with Will Ferrell being sucked into a vortex and landing in a dinosaur-populated land. More importantly, though, here’s the second concern: it’s an NBC sci-fi show. This does not bode well, if recent examples are any indication for the network that also prematurely canceled Manifest and Debris while leaving loyal viewers on the hook for a resolution. In the case of Manifest, fans will see a resolution (a fourth and final season) after Netflix decided that it was worth rustling up a handful of episodes to wrap up a wildly popular show that’s been sitting atop their most popular list for months. Has NBC learned its lesson? We’ll see.
So, there are two strikes working against La Brea already, yet I am here to tell you that, somehow, the common ground with Manifest is both a plus and a minus.
Like Manifest, this new show’s pilot doesn’t make any logical sense whatsoever, nor does it do much in the world-building department to make use of the sci-fi label. Instead, this new show sets up a group of characters with semi-convincing emotional plights to tee up some personal drama. That, right there, is where La Brea might hook some people. I’m offering that up as a plus because, in the case of Manifest (for me), I found myself a lot more invested in the soap-opera aspects of how those people trapped upon the time-warp flight would handle their f*cked-up personal lives. Also, finding out how things worked out for the people-who-assumed-their-significant-others-were-dead-and-moved-on, and so on (oh boy), was a lot more entertaining to me than attempting to care about why a detective heard mysterious voices while solving crimes. The amped-up drama was key to Manifest‘s audience appeal, which could also be a saving grace to help La Brea move past its gimmicks and watch the show.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the show’s gimmicks are a real doozy so far. There are a number of straight-up nonsensical things that happen in the pilot, which doles out some necessary groundwork. The show wastes no time in opening up the enormous sinkhole, which looks to be at least one-square-mile in area, right smack-dab in the middle of Los Angeles. The chronically underappreciated Natalie Zea portrays the main character, who falls into the sinkhole in a whirl of terrible CGI.
She lands with her son and a group of god-knows how many other people. They’re flanked by pterodactyl-type creatures and vicious, man-devouring breeds, and many ridiculous things continue to happen on the surface of earth, where Natalie Zea’s daughter and husband remain. Let’s just say that the husband goes through something that makes all those “Set Them Free” messages in Manifest look awfully well-executed in comparison. And down below, chaos reigns. Many dumb displays happen, which I shall not spoil because shouting at the TV should be a spontaneous act. You see, a lot of modern-day items fall into the abyss, along with all the people. Those things include entire vehicles and things that should not belong inside of those vehicles. You’ll see what I’m talking about, but these things, honestly, make me wonder whether the show’s writers are serious or decided to troll the audience from the beginning.
The cast does give it their all with what they’re given from writers. I’m not convinced that this will be the vehicle that will finally give Winona from Justified her due, but we’ll find out how much people embrace this show and whether the personal drama of these characters turns out to be sensational enough for the show to survive.
La Brea is an odd cat of a show so far, not only because of the nonsensical happenings but because these preposterous moments border on what one would see in FOX’s 9-1-1 franchise. Yet the show doesn’t really ask its viewers to wonder whether it’s aiming for parody. There’s no wink-wink to the camera, even as Natalie Zea beats the holy-CGI hell out of a creature that she encounters while also mulling over the initial shock of surfacing in a strange land and whether she and her son might ever go home. Zea gets to drop a little bit of the wry humor that she pulled off so well in Justified, but this show clearly isn’t a prestige offering, and it ain’t Lost with Damon Lindelof in a writing seat.
Instead, this is a ludicrous, hot mess and, as far as I can tell, intended to be one. Yet that intent never surfaces as cheeky, which is why it’s unlikely to ever win acclaim, but it’s probably going to attract the same audience as Manifest. That is, people won’t give a lick whether (generally speaking) critics won’t stomach this type of content when deciding whether or not to watch this show.
It all comes down to this: Manifest fans, are you looking for your next screwy sci-fi fix while waiting for the final Netflix season? La Brea is here to fill that gap. I’m intrigued enough to monitor it while hoping that NBC will nurture this show, rather than letting it wither on the vine, only to be resurrected by a streaming service in, say, five years.
NBC’s ‘La Brea’ premieres on Tuesday, September 28.