The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Looking For the New Mystery Hit Show

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImagePersonally, I wasn’t affected by the end of Lost, since I gave up somewhere in Season 4. I have confessed it before, I am not a big sci-fi fan and I can get bored of mystery shows that are too “out there” and leave too many things unexplained. On the other hand, I am a huge Whedonite and admittedly his shows – from Buffy to Angel to Firefly to Dollhouse – have elements of supernatural phenomena and mysteries, sometimes more, sometimes less.
So, I am not completely insusceptible to mystery, sci-fi and the supernatural elements of television.

However, everybody who isn’t a Hollywood suit knows that phenomena like Lost don’t come along all that often. Sure, you can try and hype the crap out of what you want to position as “the next big thing”, but only if there is some residual quality, if a show or movie taps into something universal and brings it across somewhat plausibly will it ever truly become a phenomenon and eventual “cult”.

There is no doubt Lost has changed the way we watch television and how we interact with television shows (remember all the online hunts you could do on the Oceanic Airlines homepage and what not?). And there is also no doubt that as soon as Lost’s ending was imminent, the suits started looking for “the next Lost”. It helped a lot that the supernatural is on the rise in TV and in the movies in general. Vampires, werewolves and other magical things wherever you look.

Mystery shows have existed for a long time and one success story of recent time most certainly is Fringe. Say what you want, but Fox people sometimes know what they’re doing. They will never have the most daring shows, but they have nice, average quality, mainstream shows that are more than watchable. And now Summer TV 2010 is bringing us more contenders for “the next BIG mystery show”.

I have already informed you that The Gates isn’t it. Now I have two more candidates on my list: NBC’s Persons Unknown and SyFy’s Haven. Can they expand their run beyond the Summer of 2010 and start a new movement of fan culture?

ImageLet’s look at Persons Unknown first, since it’s been on the air longer. Five episodes have aired so far and many a viewer’s complaint has been: “It’s too slow for a summer show”. Apparently “Summer Show” is equivalent with fast, colorful, mindless fun in many people’s minds. Personally, I don’t mind the pace of things as long as I am entertained. Heck, my favorite summer show is AMC’s Mad Men and that sure isn’t “fast” in anything but its snappy dialogs. I get my fill on gore and sex with HBO’s True Blood, so I really don’t need Persons Unknown to be another Supernatural (and yes, that was a dig at a cliché-ridden show which’s only good part were the few guest appearances by Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Persons Unknown
keeps us in the dark about a lot of its inner workings and the mysteries keep piling up. Every time one question is answered, three more pop up. Sounds like a successful concept to me. The downside of the show is the less than stellar acting in parts and some of the stereotypical characterization. Some of the front runners are fleshed out nicely, some characters are kept sketchy on purpose, but some are just obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious so they can be killed off later without remorse and without the audience caring much, I suspect.

To catch you up: a group of people are imprisoned in a ghost town, which is covered with cameras, so apparently someone is watching them. Taxis show up out of nowhere to take people away, only so they can trek through the wilderness and arrive back at the town. Doors slam shut and won’t open, trapping people inside for no obvious reason to the trap-ees. There’s a dubious night manager at the hotel they are all staying at, who seems to know more than he lets on, but really can’t be tricked into revealing anything. And no one can figure out the reason for their abduction in the first place. But are all the abductees really all that innocent or are some of them just moles?

There’s enough to sink your teeth into if you are a total mystery nut, but unfortunately there are also some logical gaps and errors in continuity. The show tries to make up for some of this by adding nice little details, but these are immediately brought to our attention in a manner that screams “Look at all the great details we have come up with!” Requesting adoration never works, makers of Persons Unknown. And it is not very believable that your characters are stacked full of knowledge so specific and so diverse in subjects that they could basically navigate the Cambodian jungle in an extraterrestrial space ship while fighting an invasion of insects and engaging in a gunfight with sword-wielding psychopaths, who they can talk into submission with their awesome psychology skills. Yup, the characters are too unevenly smart.

Conclusion: Nice try, but try again. Persons Unknown won’t last longer than… eh, okay, I give it maybe another summer, but then it’ll be gone.

ImageContender number two: Haven, based on the Stephen King novel The Colorado Kid. Sounds promising, doesn’t it? And I really liked the pilot episode. Not just because of the Buffy reference within the first minute or the spunky blonde at the show’s center, although that may have swayed my opinion in the show’s favor.
It seems from the pilot that Haven will follow the popular “monster/mystery of the week” format, having one small mystery every episode that gets solved, but an overarching storyline, which is the real link to Stephen King’s novel.

The novel is all about a mysterious dead body that was discovered on a small island off the coast of Maine. Two journalists recount their investigation and hunt for the identity of the dead man and what happened to him. They were never able to solve the mystery and overall Stephen King’s book is more a commentary on the work of journalists itself than a true crime story. The two journalists also appear in Haven, presenting our central blonde – Special Agent Audrey Parker (played by Emily Rose, who has been in just about every TV show of the past 5 years) – with a newspaper article from back in the day, where a woman who looks peculiarly like Parker is standing at the crime scene staring at the dead “Colorado Kid”. I don’t think vampires have a place in this show, so it can’t be that Parker has been in Haven before and is now back to suck the blood of the innocent Mainers. I am intrigued.

Already hinted at and developed in the pilot was the relationship and banter with the central male character, Police Detective Nathan Wuornos, who suffers from idiopathic neuropathy, read “he’s a freak of nature”. Just what a mystery show needs, no? This disease has the side effect that Nathan can’t feel pain. Whether this is good or bad varies on the life situation, I’d say. And judging from the episode of House, where he had a CIPA-patient, I am fairly certain Nathan should be a lot more worried about his condition than he appears on Haven. So far I can’t tell yet if the show really needed Nathan’s extraordinary gift/curse, because the only justification for it I can see is one I don’t like at all because it will lead to easy answers and cop-outs. Nathan will keep going even in the worst of shapes, he can’t feel pain, so you can shoot him, hit him with a bat or plunge him off a cliff… your episode will keep going. It’s a bit like having a vampire or werewolf, creatures also mainly unstoppable by conventional methods, so I am on the fence of this “story-telling device” of Nathan’s illness.

Of course, it gives him the “tough guy with a weakness” aura, which will definitely become irresistible to our snappy, witty, sarcastic, kick-ass blonde Parker. Let’s just hope Haven steers away from what X Files or Bones have done and actually explores what will happen if an orphaned, detached, female FBI agent gets involved with a genetically defect, small town cop with daddy issues (his dad is the Sheriff who couldn’t solve the Colorado Kid case).

Conclusion: Haven will face its biggest challenge when the original storyline of Stephen King’s novel is resolved and dealt with. How the transition to “all new” content is handled will be crucial. If Haven even gets to that point. The snappy dialogs and Emily Rose should pull this one along nicely though. I am excited to see more.

Neither of the shows currently on the air are likely to turn into a big phenomenon any time soon, especially not of Lost-proportions. But they keep us entertained and sometimes, that has to be enough.



Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)


Tuesday, July 13th
 8 p.m.  Pretty Little Liars (ABCFam)
 9 p.m.  
 10 p.m.  Law & Order: Criminal Intent (USA)
Wednesday, July 14th
 8 p.m.  So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
 9 p.m.  
 10 p.m.  Hot In Cleveland (TVLand)
   In Plain Sight (USA)
Thursday, July 15th  
 8 p.m.
 9 p.m.  So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
   Rookie Blue (ABC)
   Burn Notice (USA)
 10 p.m.  Royal Pains (USA)
   Boston Med (ABC)
Friday, July 16th
 8 p.m.  Friday Night Lights (NBC)
 9 p.m.  
 10 p.m.  Party Down (Starz)
   Miami Medical (CBS)
   Merlin (SyFy)
Saturday, July 17th
 8 p.m.
 Persons Unknown (NBC)
Sunday, July 18th
 9 p.m.  True Blood (HBO)
   Scoundrels (ABC)
   The Tudors (SHowtime)
 10 p.m.  Army Wives (Lifetime)
   The Gates (ABC)
   Hung (HBO)
   Leverage (TNT)
 10:30 p.m.  Entourage (HBO)
Monday, July 19th
 8 p.m.  Lie to Me (Fox)
 9 p.m.  The Good Guys (Fox)
   Huge (ABCFam)
 10 p.m.