Judge Erich Asperschlager thinks Eureka: Season One really puts the "sigh" in "sci-fi."
Our reviews of Eureka: Season 2 (published July 15th, 2008), Eureka: Season 3.5 (published June 29th, 2010), Eureka: Season 4.0 (published July 5th, 2011), Eureka: Season 4.5 (published April 16th, 2012), and Eureka: Season 5 (published July 17th, 2012) are also available.
Small town. Big secret.
When the Sci-Fi Channel original series Eureka debuted last summer, I thought the premise—quirky mysteries set in a secret government-sponsored town populated by scientific übergeniuses—sounded promising. I watched the pilot, and enjoyed it enough to watch the next few episodes. After a while, though, things about the series started to irk me, and after seven episodes, I stopped watching. I hoped that the first season DVD set would convince me I'd made a mistake by giving up so soon. How did my experiment turn out?
Facts of the Case
Eureka: Season One includes all twelve episodes on three discs:
• "Many Happy Returns"
• "Before I Forget"
• "Dr. Nobel"
• "Right as Raynes"
• "Purple Haze"
• "H.O.U.S.E. Rules"
• "Once in a Lifetime"
If you're a big enough fan of Eureka to want to buy this set, I say go for it. The episodes are presented in widescreen format, look good, and there are a bunch of extras. In fact, fans may just want to skip to where I talk about the extras, or possibly stop reading right now.
If you've never seen the show, however, but have heard about it and think it sounds interesting, read on.
I should start by saying that Eureka isn't a bad show—I enjoyed it enough, after all, to watch for seven weeks. As original cable programming, it holds its own, and as science fiction, it tackles some compelling themes. It has a quirky cast, a sense of humor, and quality special effects. It's a difficult show to review, though, because whether or not you like it depends a lot on how willing you are to suspend your disbelief, and how much you like the characters.
Eureka tries hard to be a funny show with quirky characters: the sarcastic Sheriff Carter (Colin Ferguson, Coupling); his gun-loving deputy Jo (Erica Cerra, Battlestar Galactica); Vincent, the jovial owner of town restaurant "Cafe Diem" (Chris Gauthier, Supernatural); Henry, the ingenious mechanic/inventor (Joe Morton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day); and Taggert, the intense Australian "crypto-zoologist" (Matt Frewer The Stand). It's a talented cast. I just wish the writing allowed for more genuine emotional moments between the characters—by trying so hard to be funny, the characters come across as one-dimensional, hitting the same quirky notes over and over. Since I never really got to care about the characters, I never much cared what happened to them.
Eureka's biggest problem is a tonal conflict between the serious and the goofy. I like a show with a sense of humor, but not when it gets in the way of the plot. There are too many serious moments that end up diffused by inappropriate sarcasm. If you just found out a woman you thought was dead had actually been cloned by her recently deceased husband after their divorce, would you really crack a joke? Oh, did I mention they have an orphaned son? Now that's funny!
The tonal misfires aren't a complete dealbreaker, but they do make the series less immersive than it should be. The same is true when it comes to the plotting: episodes with compelling premises often have ridiculous conclusions, or plot holes that left me scratching my head. Here's a good example, though you may not want to read it if you're afraid of spoilers (just skip to the next paragraph): Sheriff Carter, being attacked by someone who can running at him at speeds in excess of 500 miles-per-hour, finally subdues his attacker by hitting him in the head with a baseball, knocking him unconscious. I'm no genius, but wouldn't a baseball travelling at the equivalent of nearly 600 M.P.H. take someone's head off? It's like my dad said when I asked him what he thought of the show: "I like more science in my science fiction."
Overall, Eureka feels like a good idea that doesn't quite live up to its potential. It could be first-season growing pains, or lack of shooting time, or too small of a budget, but whatever it is, it keeps the show from being great. There's plenty of room for the series to grow, and I hope it does. There are elements that really intrigue me: I'd love to know more about the mysterious "artifact," for example, or the shadowy government conspiracy and its agenda for the town's discoveries. They just need to find a way to balance the serious and the funny.
There are a lot of extras on this set—more than 10 hours, in fact, if you believe the front of the box. Whether they add value or not is another issue: The vast majority of the included extras are already available, for free. Only two new episode commentaries (both for the Pilot) were recorded for this set. The rest of the commentaries are actually the official Eureka podcasts, recorded and released by scifi.com throughout the season. Part of me wants to salute this decision as forward-thinking—podcasts are, after all, an increasingly-important way for shows to reach their fans; and by including them on the discs it eliminates the need for a separate MP3 player. At the same time, more DVD-specific content would have been nice.
The extras are rounded out by some deleted scenes and outtakes, with commentary tracks, a fairly cheesy series of "webisodes," and two "Made in Eureka" mock infomercials. Fans will probably find a lot to like in these extras, which are obviously geared towards them. The quality varies widely, especially in the podcast commentary tracks: those that Colin Ferguson recorded by himself are pretty hit-and-miss (you know it's bad when he actually stops in one of them to make a phone call). When they were free podcasts, the expectations probably weren't as high; as full-fledged DVD extras, though, they often come up short. Of course, if you want to know where in Vancouver certain scenes were shot, or how talented everyone thinks the other actors are, you're in luck. There's also a lot of "I remember we had to get this in one take because we were running out of time/daylight/money." Considering how tight things seemed to have been during production, I almost feel bad for criticizing the show.
Special mention should be made of the DVD packaging: It's 100% recyclable, with 100% biodegradable DVD trays. A little on the flimsy side, perhaps, but that's a small price to pay for progress.
This is a set for fans. I'm not a fan. If you're not yet sure of your fan status, I say catch an episode on TV first before you shell out for this set. If you love the show (and many people do) I say godspeed. If not, there's plenty of TV-quirkiness to be found elsewhere.
I'm going to have to shut this project down until they can bring it back up to code.
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