Welcome to the first edition of TV Testimonals! In TV Testimonals I will be watching a season of a television show I haven’t seen before and hoping to give it a fair shake from start to finish as I watch all of the season and see what it has to offer. I will be sticking with a show no matter what, and I just pray I won’t become bitter and sad as a result of terrible television. Why am I doing this? I want to sneak outside my comfort zone and see what a few lesser known shows bring to the table. To that end I am first watching a little show called Continuum.
So what is Continuum? Here’s the elevator pitch. The year is 2077, and the world is run by corporations. At some point in history, the governments received bailouts from the corporations who have had a stranglehold on them ever since. As you might expect, this is not only economically, but legislatively, socially and judicially. There is a group of rebels fighting against this corporate oppression, going by the name Liber8. I will go ahead and state right now that this name is the thing I like least about the pilot episode. The name is not that great, and it uses a number to make a word. Perhaps it will be revealed later on that this is the result of a license plate or something and then it will all make sense. Then again, I’ve only watched the first episode, so what do I know? To get back in the elevator, the rebels are arrested, but not before they stage a major act of terrorism, and blow up several corporate headquarters, killing tens of thousands of innocent lives. At their execution, the rebels manage to toss together some sort of crazy device, and they travel back in time to the year 2012, but not before they manage to take Protector (read: police officer) Kiera Cameron, the quite lovely Rachel Nichols, with them. Their plan is to start a revolution in the past that causes the eventual downfall of the corporations in the future. It’s all very Terminator of them. Now, that all being said, I’ll actually get to the review.
The first question I always ask myself when watching a pilot is, “Is this episode actually good, good for a pilot, average for a pilot, bad for a pilot, or actually bad?” This might seem like a loaded question, but watching a pilot must be done with a certain understanding of the way the television industry works. You have to approach a pilot with the thorough understanding that everything about the show must be condensed into a single episode, and that major parts of it might be haphazardly retconned in second episode. Good examples of this are USA shows such as Burn Notice or Psych where massive rewriting of characters or recasting occurred. This isn’t always a bad thing, Fiona no longer having a terrible Irish accent is a good example of an excellent decision, whereas Psych only passingly mentioned the fact that Anne Dudek wasn’t cast in the rest of the series. It is still something you must keep in mind when considering a pilot.
I am not positive that non-American programming follows this model. For one thing, a shorter series or season run allows for a little less risk on the part of the network. For another, I don’t think the industry is the same. There is overall less competition and the risks taken are very interesting when compared with the risk of American shows. The overall lower budget gives a lot of wiggle room to these shows. Certainly Spaced never felt like a pilot episode, neither did Sherlock, which just feels like a few made for TV movies each series, and Misfits didn’t either. I’d compare British standard television favorably to pay cable programming. The majority of pay cable shows don’t follow the standard model of the pilot, and the shorter runs again lets higher concepts prevail. Continuum is a Canadian show, and to be honest I haven’t been thrilled with a lot of the Canadian television I have seen.
The one thing I did like about it right away from the show description is that the show is shot in Vancouver, like a lot of American television, but doesn’t pretend that it’s not Vancouver, which is not only convenient, but gets rid of that “I know this isn’t the city they say it is and it drives me a little crazy” thing that can sometimes happen when you watch a show. I am straying far from my originally posed question, so let me conclude this digression by simply saying that I believe this episode is good for a pilot, and even goes firmly into actually good territory.
The initial episode has some issues, but almost all of them can be attributed to simply being the pilot. I want to go ahead and address these so I can move past the flaws and problems, and get into the very interesting premise and execution that this show presents. Outside of the name of the terrorist/resistance organization being Liber8, the show suffers from a little too much breezing through the quite obvious sticking points. This is honestly the only thing the show did poorly, and I probably only noticed it because I was consciously looking for things like this to happen because it’s a pilot. These flaws amount to really only three issues. One, the accidental time travel to the wrong period is handled with minimal fuss by all parties. Kiera has some pretty good scenes around this, but is overall way more calm than you might expect. The prisoners handle it equally as easy, but the sense there is that they are determined to just roll with it, as they had been prepped for the experience anyway.
Still, there is commentary to the effect that this screws up their plans, but they all knew it was a seemingly one-way trip so they are prepared to roll with it. This leads me to believe there is quite obviously more than meets the eye going on here, so I don’t really consider the reaction of the prisoners to be a negative. I did appreciate the very 12 Monkeys-esque breakdown that Ingram has though, that was probably the best bit of the actual time travel portion. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s a tiny bit breezier than it otherwise should be. The second breezy issues arises when Kiera presents herself as a detective from Portland. She saw this woman on TV, took her name, has no credentials, and is shady as hell at a crime scene but she ends up quite nicely being on a “gang task force” to hunt down the Liber8 movement. This is probably the biggest flaw in the pilot, and is the weakest writing that goes on by far.
The police chief is very much a stereotype in the pilot too, so that didn’t help matters. Again, this was the weakest segment of the show and even then it’s only roughly ten minutes total, so that’s saying something. Finally, there is the matter of Kiera not being freaked out when she hears a young Alec Sadler in her head. See, the technology that allows the Protectors to communicate with each other in the future was designed by Sadler, founder of SadTech, one of the biggest corps in the future. Young Alec not only takes the fact that someone is on his secure, proprietary frequency in stride, but also doesn’t seem rattled that Kiera is from the future and immediately takes to helping her and apparently has all of the future tech set up quite readily. This is only mildly distracting, because the interactions between Young Alec, a very game Erik Knudsen, and Kiera are good. That’s really it though, just those three things. I sincerely hope it’s not indicative of things that will continue, because I don’t really want more breezy sci-fi, and I am more than willing to just attribute it to the pilot episode. Again, I have heard good things, so we will see.
On to the good. The premise is intriguing and the way the episode is framed and shot does some pretty amazing things for the story. See, Young Alec goes out of his way to mention the two predominant theories on time travel, the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle, and the many-worlds interpretation. Young Alec doesn’t seem to know which one is occurring here, but he’s obviously knowledgeable and well-read. The show seems to indicate that Novikov is what is occurring here. Old Alec, played by the awesome William B. Davis, aka the Cigarette Smoking Man from X-files, does not seem phased when the time travel occurs at the beginning of the episode, and there is a flashback/forward where Kiera remembers meeting Sadler and he says, “Kiera, I have been waiting a long time to finally meet you”. This seems to heavily hint that Sadler knew what was going to occur, and therefore enforces the first theory. This level of high-concept is something that intrigues me, and it at least pays lip-service to some actual science, which is always a plus with me.
Speaking of science, this show does a pretty awesome job of showing the future on a low budget. The early scenes are incredibly stylish and give off a cool future vibe of flying cars and Protectors being cybernetically enhanced humans. Kiera has clothing that is a skin-tight future looking jump suit thing that looks pretty awesome in its own right, but is also bulletproof, made from electropigment, can turn her invisible, and has built-in projection computer tech. It’s very slick and cool. She is shown to be a competent bad ass, but not unbeatable or incredibly egregious. The way arrests work in the future, implanting a horrible chip in someone that will cause incredible pain if the person doesn’t turn themselves in, is neat to see too. Her gun is a cool future tech piece as well, but fails to work in the past. The rest of her gear doesn’t fail, and neither do her cybernetics, so I hope that this is delved into a bit in the future. She has the ability to review her memory, and upload her sight and thoughts to a central computer for evidentiary use. The fact that Young Alec’s computer handles all of this seamlessly, including allowing him to hijack the optic nerve of Kiera, is part of the breezy issue I mentioned before, but I’d like to believe this was all part of a plan by Sadler in the future. We will see. This might get cooler or less cool depending on future episodes.
Rachel Nichols has some incredible scenes that really show off her acting chops. The best of these are the series of scenes where she is alone and wandering around, or in her hotel room. You get a real sense of loss from her leaving behind a child and husband. It’s quiet competence. Victor Webster doesn’t get much room to stretch, other than being easy going, yet competent, cop Carlos Fonnegra of the Vancouver Police Department. There is some good setting done when Kiera observes Fonnegra’s interactions with others. Erik Knudsen doesn’t get a lot to work with either, but his intensity and understanding are played well. The Liber8 members are pretty solidly menacing, with the aforementioned Ingram being pretty awesome in his turn. There is a lot going on with the Liber8 members, and I can only hope it has a chance to be fully explored. I enjoyed the very Terminator vibe of the show in the first episode, and I am eagerly awaiting an opportunity to watch more.
Final rating of the first episode “A Stitch in Time”: three smiley faces