Without having watched an episode of the new NBC show, some have described La Brea as TV’s next Lost. That’s being kind. Lost was unusual and mysterious when it first premiered in 2004. There was nothing like it. But it was huge and became the talk at the watercooler every week. Since that time, every network has tried to come up with their own “Lost” but it has proven to be a difficult task.
NBC in particular has had a long string of high concept shows that have been developed with a lot of fanfare only to be scrapped a few months later due to low ratings and I’m afraid that this will also be the case for LeBrea. The concept is interesting enough and the acting is pretty good, but it is full of overused tropes and lazy writing. An estranged family? Check. A government cover-up? Check. A hero with the answers but nobody will listen to? Check. And on it goes.
Writer David Appelbaum’s script starts out strong with some fairly decent CGI work during the first five minutes of the pilot episode. Pretty impressive for a TV show. The series begins with a mother and two teens stuck in Los Angeles traffic. Eve Harris (Natalie Zea) is trying to drop her kids off at school. We learn that she is separated from her husband Gavin (Eoin Macken). Izzy (Zyra Gorecki) and Josh (Jack Martin) accuse her of being a helicopter parent and try to calm her down by telling her that they can ride the school bus like every other teen. Then it happens. A police woman is directing traffic when a crack in the road travels around her and she falls in what appears to be sink hole. Then the hole gets bigger and bigger with cars, people and building toppling inside the giant hole. As you already know from the previews, Eve and Josh both fall in as well leaving Izzy left screaming.
In no time at all, government officials are making statements to the press that they are not pursuing a rescue mission since nobody would be able to fall hundreds of feet and survive. Izzy reunites with her father above ground and Eve and Josh reconnect down below. While the world above is still in hysterics, Eve wakes up to find others who have fallen down with her who are strangely calm. The scene doesn’t ring true. All around Eve sit vehicles and buildings turned upside down or broken because of the fall, but she doesn’t have a scratch on her. The people here are introducing themselves to each other and trying to grab whatever supplies that they can find. No one seems particularly upset or scared. (Compare these scenes to the first ones from Lost’s pilot and you’ll find a whole different situation.) That begins to change slightly when some questionable CGI-created beasts show up.
We are introduced to a few more characters and the series is already throwing too much information our way. Dr. Sam Velez (Jon Seda) is there with his formerly pre-med daughter Riley (Veronica St. Clair). There is Marybeth Hayes (Karina Logue), a beat cop who is already hoarding food for her own survival instead of sharing with the rest. (Why is that?) There is Scott Israni (Rohan Mirchandandey) who seems to be the only one there freaking out and there is a mysterious man who is terribly depressed and just wants to kill himself for some reason among others.
Meanwhile, up above, extinct birds have appeared from the sink hole and we learn that Gavin sees visions. In fact, he can “see” the people who have fallen. When he tries to tell the authorities what he “knows” and that the people who have fallen are still alive, no one believes him. His questionable military background might have something to do with that. Even Izzy wants nothing to do with it. She just wants to go home.
And then there is Dr. Sophia Nathan (Virginie Laverdure) who is smooth-talker in front of the media’s cameras but we soon find out that she knows more than she’s letting on about the phenomenon.
While the rest of the hour plays out with a few exciting scenes, there’s no real tension. One character says, “Something strange is going on.” You’re just now realizing this? You know that the people in jeopardy are going to be okay. It’s actually quite boring. A reboot of The Land of the Lost would be more exciting and possibly less obvious.
Now that Manifest is more popular than ever on Netflix after being canceled by NBC, the network could really use a win. At the end of the pilot episode, upcoming scenes promise that more exciting storylines are on their way. That might be true, but does anybody care? Unlike Lost, La Brea fails to find a way for viewers to connect and sympathizes with the fallen ones. Sure, it would be nice for everyone to meet up again with their loved ones, but there isn’t one character here that I care about. (I actually like the family dynamic here, but it’s not enough.) I think that has a lot to do with the network’s rush to get the story moving without fully developing the characters first. Even old disaster movies took time to let the audience get a little insight into each of the character’s lives before the heavy action started. Le Brea might have made a better made-for-TV movie or miniseries, but time will tell.
Le Brea airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.
Main image: NBC
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.