Despite hearing that is an “X-Files” meets “Raiders of the Lost Ark” meets “Moonlighting” premise, the pilot felt more like “Ghostbusters” meets “Relic Hunter” minus Bill Murray’s dry sarcasm and Tia Carrere’s cleavage. Whatever opinions about Bill and Tia you may have, that’s a good thing.
In a nutshell it’s about a pair of young Secret Service agents who are re-assigned to the mysterious South Dakota-based Warehouse 13 – a secret and massive depository of artifacts and objects collected by the US Government since the Civil War. Anything that is unknown, not understood or just plane strange is archived here. And yeah, it’s just like warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Presumably, each week Agents Peter Strong and Myka Bering will go out and either find or retrieve something that is best kept safe (and secure) at the Warehouse. There is a definite sense of the supernatural at play here. Hopefully “Warehouse 13” will dodge the fate of many of the other ghosts/demons-are-out-there-and-someone-has-to-bottle-them-up shows that have become their own genre by now (“The Collector, “Reaper”, “The Dresden Files” — the list goes on.)
Full disclosure – I’m a bit of a genre-junkie and am almost genetically pre-disposed to wanting anything that’s even slightly genre-based to be watchable and cool. I often tune into these shows with the basic question of whether I would want to write for this show? If I don’t, I tend to get bored and move on to something else. Fortunately, “Warehouse 13” had a nice mix of the supernatural and some fun and it didn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a bit of a sci-fi dramedy in the vein of “Eureka” and the sci-fi TV landscape can use more shows like that. Even the names of the two agents, Strong and Bering, are a wink to the audience.
The script is a 100 pages. It was a bit blocky in its action sequences and a bit overly descriptive with a fair bit of camera direction, but it’s a pilot and the writers probably wanted to be very clear about how they saw locations and the action unfolding. The pilot effectively sets-up the two lead characters, their predicament (being assigned against their will to Warehouse 13) and the other characters; Agent Artie Nielson (the warehouse’s odd, house-bound curator) and a few weird South Dakota locals who suggest they know more about the new agents than they should.
A lengthy FIRST ACT (24 pages) sets-up a paranormal incident at the Smithsonian that gets Agents Strong and Bering re-assigned to Warehouse 13. Neither of them like it their new posting. It’s a weird place full of boxes and other artifacts the government doesn’t know what to do with. It’s a nice nod to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the Ark’s final resting place and you almost expect to see the Ark there in its crate, (which begs a future episode to be written). The First Act ends with Strong and Bering realizing they aren’t soon going to get out of this assignment. And they’re effectively committed (for now) to working at Warehouse 13. The SECOND ACT is a bit of a detour from the main A-plot. There is some subtle layering of tidbits of information that will no doubt play themselves out in future episodes as part of the show’s larger mythology; why were Strong and Bering re-assigned here? Is there something unique about them? And what is the conspicuously evasive Artie keeping from them? What I like to call “rules of the world” are hinted at so the audience knows what can happen, what can’t happen and what might happen. Oddly, the Second Act ends not on something related to the A-plot but on something that is feels more to be part of a potential reoccurring storyline involving Bering and her dead lover who now appears to her in the form of a wise-cracking spirit courtesy of a magical wallet from the Warehouse. At this point, it felt like the bigger things involving the main storyline were waiting to happen, but again, as a two-hour pilot, a number of things had to be introduced before the team could get out in the field on their first mission.
The THIRD ACT is 13 pages, and finally gets the first mission underway. Strong and Bering have to recover the other half of the mysterious ancient artifact that was een in the opening before it unleashes it’s evil. The FOURTH ACT is 13 pages, the FIFTH is 11, the SIXTH is 6 and the SEVENTH (which is an extended tag) is 8 pages long. The recovery of the mysterious artifact is the core of the A-plot and rives the vast majority of the story. ACT EIGHT (8 pages) is a lengthy tag back at Warehouse 13 that sets-up the rest of the upcoming series — the agents can’t go back to their old jobs because of what they’ve seen and learned. They’ve solved one mystery. What else is out there waiting to be brought to Warehouse 13? And why is everyone in this area so interested in them? And so, the larger mystery begins”
Overall, it’s an interesting premise for a series. By the end of the Third Act, the agents are on their way and the act breaks from here on tend to break on a moment of jeopardy and tension involving the agents and the supernatural artifact. The script suffers from a bit of pilot-itis in that it tries to do a lot of things (like all pilots do) by setting up the premise, the characters, the world, it’s rules, it’s minor characters, the series’ tone, style, and so on while hinting at larger mythology and character arcs. There are a few clever nods to the fanboys with obscure pop culture references to Philo Farnsworth, Tri-corders and the notion of someone being “a T.O.S fan”. It took a while for the agents to get going on their first mission and once it started it seemed we had to go along with a few false starts as they tried to track down the artifact. The pilot is intended to cover a two-hour broadcast so the writers probably had to elongate a few things in the second-half of the script and so we had a few red herrings to get through, but I’m quibbling. No doubt a regular one-hour episode will get to the action and the twist and turns much sooner, increasing the jeopardy and comedy.
The Sci-Fi Channel has ordered 11 more episodes for 2009. Writers/Creators O’Bannon and Espenson are two of the best and their combined talent (if they remain on the series) promises strong stories, engaging characters and a nice blend of comedy and drama under an intriguing sci-fi premise.
And based on this script, I’ll be sure to tune in.