Plot: When a massive sinkhole mysteriously opens in Los Angeles, it tears a family in half, separating mother and son from father and daughter. When part of the family finds themselves in an unexplainable primeval world, alongside a disparate group of strangers, they must work to survive and uncover the mystery of where they are and if there is a way back home.
Review: Before the current Golden Age of Television, marquee shows were the stuff of network television rather than cable or streaming. For a while, genre serials became all the rage thanks to ABC’s Lost. But, in the sixteen years since that pop-culture behemoth, network television has become reliant on reality television to fill their primetime schedules. In the latest attempt to build something to enter the zeitgeist of modern TV viewing, NBC is pushing their new series, La Brea, very hard. A blend of Jurassic World and Lost, La Brea has to be one of the worst pilots I have watched in years. It is so bad that it makes me wonder why NBC is marketing it so hard.
This show is bad. There is no beating around the bush. folks. From truly weak dialogue to third-rate computer effects, it is astounding that this series made it to air. Compared to Lost, to which this series shares more than a passing resemblance, the FX here is beyond dated and looks like something you would see in SyFy’s early 2000s output. You can tell in the first five minutes, embedded above, that this is not written to be an Emmy contender for Best Drama Series. If anything, this show opens with an hour that barely hides the fact that it takes every twist, turn, and character development from other, better shows.
Once the massive sinkhole opens and sucks everyone to the mysterious primeval world seen in the trailers, La Brea splits time between the survivors acclimating to their new surroundings as well as those left behind in Los Angeles. At the forefront is Natalie Zea as Claire Harris. Separated from her former fighter pilot husband Gavin (Eoin Macken), Claire is a helicopter mom to her son Josh (Jack Martin) and daughter Izzy (Zyra Gorecki). Ever since an accident cost Izzy her leg, Claire has been overprotective. It also doesn’t help that her husband, shot down in the desert years prior, continues to have bizarre visions that led to their family falling apart.
With Izzy and Gavin in LA, while Claire and Josh are in the other world, the episode shifts back and forth. In the primeval world, we quickly find dozens of survivors scattered around wreckage (ahem, Lost) and are introduced to a drug addict with a British accent (ahem, Lost), a mysterious cop, a suicidal psychiatrist, and a protective dad and his daughter. Everyone wonders where the hell they are, and someone even verbatim says that line of dialogue made famous as the last line of Lost‘s pilot episode. The dynamic of the survivors banding together to find supplies while leaders and factions begin to emerge unfolds almost exactly like we have seen multiple times before.
Where La Brea changes things up comes in the Los Angeles set scenes. Quickly it becomes obvious that the military/government knows something that they are not sharing which also connects to Gavin’s visions. This could be an intriguing angle for the series to take, but it ends up muddled beneath cliche dialogue and generic actors spouting it. All of the dramatic moments are diminished by some truly mediocre acting. The lone exception is Natalie Zea who has proven herself adept at everything from serious (Justified) to hilarious (The Other Guys). Jon Seda comes in a close second as a protective father. Aside from them, everyone comes across as far too melodramatic or takes the material more seriously than it deserves.
For all its ambition, La Brea is one of the weakest pilots I have seen in years. The special effects are bad, the characters cliche, and the dialogue painful. By the time the end credits rolled, there was enough plot to pique my interest to find out what will come next, but not enough for me to subject myself to any subsequent episodes. A twist in the final act gave me enough pause to find out more about where series creator David Applebaum (The Mentalist) is taking things. Had this show premiered a decade ago, it could have been a big hit for NBC. Now, it feels like a tired retread of a tired retread.
La Brea premieres on September 28th on NBC.