Universal // 2006 // 634 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Rafael Gamboa (Retired) // September 13th, 2006
"Water. The perfect hiding place."
This is a show that is intensely likable, despite its flaws. This is damn good television, discontinued prematurely before it could reach its incredible potential. Surface went the way of Firefly and Arrested Development, and while it may not be as good as those shows, it is certainly far better than a vast majority of the flavorless fare that is beamed into American households.
Since this is a heavily episodic show, giving a synopsis of each installment would totally spoil the entire story arc, and I can't bring myself to commit such a crime. So instead I'll try to summarize the show's premise as best I can: Something new is prowling the seas. It has no natural predators, it is nearly indestructible, it can grow to massive size, and it is threatening to throw the planetary ecology into mayhem. And yet, this creature could possibly the one of the most unimaginably beneficial discoveries for the well-being of humanity.
The show follows the adventures of marine biologist Laura Daughtery (Lake Bell, The Practice), insurance salesman Rich Connelly (Jay R. Ferguson, Judging Amy), and high schooler Miles Bennet (Carter Jenkins, Bad News Bears) as they each encounter the mysterious new creature and attempt to discover the truth about its origin and nature. They are hounded by a somewhat disreputable scientist working for the government (Rade Serbedzija, Eyes Wide Shut) and an enigmatic agent (Ian Anthony Dale, Charmed).
This is a science fiction tale that seems to be fairly formulaic. There's the monster-alien-creature thing, mysterious happenings, a military cover-up, a renegade scientist, a plucky hero, technological gadgetry, and an ominous soundtrack. What sets Surface apart from all the others is its assortment of fresh characters and its unending string of what can best be described as "holy bleep!" moments.
Everybody on this show is so refreshingly human. They are troubled, prone to mistakes, and realistically imperfect. Even the antagonists are genuinely human, with lives and loves of their own -- a rarity in the genre. Nobody behaves logically all the time, but they all behave as they would, according to who they are. It can be exciting and frustrating at times to watch the protagonists go on about their lives and their dilemmas, but no action is inexplicable. The characters are the products of writers who have a keen psychological understanding of them and who place them above the demands of the scientific plot, and of actors whose talents give them vitality.
The story can be described as both predictable and entirely surprising. The show is full of the kind of moments where you'd think to yourself "He's going to get it" or "That's going to blow up," and then it happens. Surface fulfills that sort of short term expectation quite often. If the rest of the story were as predictable, then all of it would probably be uselessly uninteresting. Instead, what makes that sort of predictability actually satisfying is the manner in which it is done and the fact it is nicely balanced with a truly epic story arc that continually takes unexpected and often terrifyingly awesome directions.
The visual style and pacing of the show is a delicious exercise in "creepy." The music may be derivative and clich é, but the cinematography, editing, and writing overshadows it beautifully. Also, the computer animation is generally quite good. There are a few moments where the animation doesn't even remotely resemble reality, but overall, the illusion is sold. The creatures are impressive, and (oddly) the most spectacular bit of animation is the computer-generated Black Hawk helicopter stand-in.
Above all, creators Jonas and Josh Pate managed to create that intangible and indescribable something that makes it irresistibly addicting and engrossing. This show actually does capture the imagination, and in the process attaches itself to your psyche like a high school crush.
The DVD special features are distributed across all four discs as follows: Disc One has the first three episodes, while the other three discs have four episodes each. Disc One has deleted scenes for episode #102, a truckload of previews, and a behind-the-scenes feature called "Sci-Fi and Special Effects." Disc Two has deleted scenes for episodes #105 and #106, Disc Three for episode #109, and Disc Four for episode #114. The deleted scenes are for the most part longer versions of scenes that were aired, and are interesting mainly for the insight they give into the editing process and its influence. For example, some characters are cast in an entirely different light just by retaining dialogue that had been eliminated in post-production. The featurette is pretty humdrum. It breezes vaguely through everything, and in the end imparts very little inside knowledge. It's better than nothing, I suppose, but still, more information would be highly appreciated.
Does this show have problems? Many. It stretches the limits of plausibility often enough, it struggles at times to maintain narrative continuity, and the music is a decadent indulgence in genre cheese. More importantly, Miles' story arc seems to get stuck in a certain loop for a while, a problem which is compounded by the fact he's the kind of character that runs the risk of getting on viewers' nerves. But all these glitches are easily forgivable in light of the near unavoidable addiction Surface inspires.
So why did this show die? Well, mysterious television producers' motivations and machinations aside, the reasons probably stem more from the nature of the show than the show itself. Unlike episodic shows like The X-Files, this show is heavily continuous. It's not the kind of show one can pick up intermittently and enjoy; it requires commitment, which is easy when you own the DVD set, but infinitely more difficult for a new show trying to attract audiences when aired on a weekly schedule. 24, a similarly structured show, manages to surpass that obstacle by pumping each installment with tankards of fast-paced action and high tension, but Surface can't do that since the material requires it to be slow paced and mysterious. These two factors probably contributed to its unfortunate demise, as the show inevitably becomes difficult to follow week to week. The show's customary opening summary for the first half of the season was mildly confusing, which probably didn't help the situation. But the producers' solution couldn't have been lamer. Apparently, somebody with clout decided to fix the opening summary by bringing in the movie preview guy (a.k.a. The Voice of God) to do incredibly cheesy and lame-tacular voice-overs of the kind that curdle milk. Yeah, great idea, guys.
The death of this show makes this DVD a bittersweet experience. In its first and only season, Surface reached for the stars. Consequently, a plethora of unanswered questions are left in its wake to fester in the minds of those who followed the show. So many things are mentioned once and never again. Many events are left entirely unexplained. Reaching the end of this aggravatingly incomplete show is deeply frustrating. Nevertheless, the show is just too damn good to pass up. It is most definitely worth it, despite the misfortune surrounding the title.
The court finds the defendant wrongfully accused and acquits it of all charges.
Review content copyright © 2006 Rafael Gamboa; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 634 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Sneak Peeks
* Sci-Fi Special Effects: Behind the Scenes