Judge Victor Valdivia has a warehouse of old artifacts, but washed-out heavy metal T-shirts aren't really worth much.
The unknown has an address.
And so do goofy sci-fi TV shows like this one: The SyFy Channel.
Facts of the Case
Secret Service agents Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock, Crumbs) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly, Vanished) find themselves suddenly reassigned to Warehouse 13, a top secret storage facility in South Dakota that houses mysterious and unexplained items from throughout history. Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek, True Romance) runs the warehouse and gives Pete and Myka their assignments, but he's harboring some significant secrets of his own, as his superior Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder, The Shield) and his assistant Claudia (Allison Scagliotti, Drake and Josh) can attest to. Here are the twelve episodes of Warehouse 13: Season One, collected on three discs:
If you've ever wondered what would have happened if The X-Files was 50% sillier, 75% less coherent, and with 100% cheaper special effects, wonder no more. Warehouse 13 takes the well-worn X-Files/Bones/Fringe/The 4400 template of attractive male/female government agents investigating unusual occurrences and doesn't really add anything to it. It's the same show, except with writing that's too silly to be taken seriously, acting that's clearly less about emotional depth than self-amusement, and cheap CGI that would look embarrassing in a local health-club ad. It's on par with the typically ridiculous original movies SyFy cranks out about giant lobsters, three-headed dogs, and killer tornadoes, so you should know what to expect.
Within those narrow parameters, Warehouse 13 is at least reasonably easy to watch. The show is lightweight enough, with some moments of amusing levity and some easily digestible stories. It's just not very deep. The action scenes are pretty bloodless, and there's never much, if any, real menace, so the tension is minimal. The emotional depth is also meager—there are some elaborate backstories for each of the characters but, with one exception, they're not really dealt with all that much. They're just around for additional lines of dialogue that are tossed off and ignored. Even the elaborate MacPherson storyline isn't that threatening. MacPherson is a pretty standard-issue mustache-twirling villain (even if he doesn't actually have a mustache) and his "plan" doesn't make much sense. In "Implosion," he's collecting dangerous artifacts, presumably to use them. Then, in "Nevermore," he uses them to bait and taunt the agents. Then, in "MacPherson," he seems to be selling them to the highest bidder, except that it may be a ploy to frame Artie, except that there seems to be a possible plot to kill Artie involving one or more moles in the warehouse itself, all of which hinges on MacPherson getting arrested and being brought to the warehouse, which is something he's been desperately avoiding in all of his previous episodes. So no, it's not exactly the most well-thought-out plan in sci-fi (or even SyFy) history. The showrunners admit in various places on this DVD set that they did not map out the first season in advance, but even taking that into account doesn't help explain all the gaping holes. It's probably better to just forget about the sloppy storytelling and savor the godawful CGI effects (seriously, they really are crummy looking) and cheerfully silly stories.
How silly are the stories? One of the most feared artifacts in one episode is…a comb. It's the comb of one of history's most infamous murderers that transmits evil through…well, your hair. Consider the sword in "Implosion" isn't just the best-made samurai sword in history; it also makes you invisible. The first would have been enough but to add the second is some kind of goofball genius. Sure, you could argue the show appears to be written by a roomful of 12-year-old boys who want to make up stuff that sounds cool, but that's not quite accurate. Those boys would have come up with an artifact way cooler than a lounge chair that makes people violent after they've sat in it a few times, as seen in the weakest episode here. Nonetheless, even with such a ridiculous premise, the episode still ends up being amusing, so clearly the adolescent showrunners are doing something right. What that is, though, is hard to say.
Technically, this DVD set is mixed. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is a sharp as you might imagine. Colors are vivid and the image quality is so crisp that you'll actually see just how terrible the CGI is. The 5.1 mix, on the other hand, is a little irritating. The dialogue is mixed too low and considering how much of the humor comes from mumbled asides and little exclamations, that's a significant drawback. You'd be advised to turn on the subtitles on a few occasions. The discs do come with a healthy collection of extras. Four episodes come with commentary. Rubinek discuss the pilot while other cast members and writers comment on "Claudia," "Implosion," and "MacPherson." These are fun to listen to and do have some nice bits of info. There are also several featurettes scattered throughout: "Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe" (11:24), "Saul Searching" (2:12), "Artie-Facts" (4:51), and "What's in the Shadows" (5:53). These all address various aspects of production and contain interviews with cast and crew members and are worth a look if you really like the show, although they don't really go into much depth. There is also a "Sneak Peek at Warehouse 13 Season Two" (3:54) that has a few nuggets of information. Some episodes include deleted scenes but these are all extremely short, lasting usually less than two minutes. Finally, the set comes with a "Gag Reel" (3:13) that's mildly amusing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one episode that tries to go for more profundity is "Regret," and, in some ways, it's actually the best episode, even if it's not entirely successful. In addressing the traumas that make up each of the characters by forcing them to relive them (by way of a haunted prison), the episode does flesh out the characters somewhat. These scenes are well-written by themselves but can seem a little off-kilter when added to the episode's other scenes that involve cute jokes and cheesy effects. Still, in these moments, it's possible to see how the show could have been sharper had it tried to cut deeper more often.
It's also worth pointing out that these scenes work because the cast members really give their all. If anything, this is one of the best-cast shows on TV. Rubinek and Pounder are the stalwarts, as you might imagine, but there is no weak link here. The other actors banter and relate easily and have great chemistry together. Even if the writing and effects let them down, you might take enormous pleasure in watching just for their performances. The actors are clearly having the times of their lives and they seem to relish each line and scene, no matter how silly. Their pleasure is so infectious that you can't help but enjoy the series along with them.
Warehouse 13 is such a lightweight show that the attempts of seriousness, while welcome, are beside the point. Lacking the operatic denseness of The X-Files or the dark satire of The 4400, Warehouse 13 works best when it's just another crazy SyFy product that's more about laughs, intentional and otherwise, than complexity. Don't expect much (or no more than other typical SyFy fare) and you'll have as much fun as the show's cast and crew are clearly having. Recommended for 12-year-old boys of all ages and genders.
Guilty of being unabashedly cheesy and preposterous but let off with a fine because it's so unabashedly cheesy and preposterous.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.