La Brea is a new epic adventure series from NBC that will most definitely have people talking. Likely many will want to talk about comparisons it may have to Lost, with its somewhat janky plotting or its wild supernatural twists and turns. It’s the kind of show that has big ideas and a pilot episode that hasn’t quite found its feet yet. Airing Tuesdays at 9-10 p.m. ET, it’s too early to tell if this is a series with legs, but it’s certainly fun to chat about with friends.
The premise is simple enough opening with Eve Harris (Natalie Zea) driving her kids Izzy (Zyra Gorecki) and Josh (Jack Martin) to school when a sinkhole begins to collapse ahead of them. Their car is quickly stuck in traffic — that’s LA for you — and they jump out of the car to run from collapsing buildings and the asphalt underneath them.
Josh and Eve end up falling in while Izzy is left topside with just her father Gavin (Eoin Macken) left to console her. But wait, even though the sinkhole is hundreds of feet deep, Eve and her son Josh are fine and instead find themselves in a primeval land where folks begin to show their true colors with all of society gone from sight.
Casual viewers will instantly connect this to ABC’s Lost since it takes a group of characters who don’t know each other and throws them into perilous scenarios since wild animals are lurking and their fellow man can’t be trusted. It takes the familiar idea that a person’s true colors aren’t brought out until things get really bad. Think CBS’ Under the Dome. There are even supernatural mysteries afoot, characters who have the information they aren’t divulging about the bigger problem and even a character who has visions that somehow connect him to the world inside the sinkhole.
For all intents and purposes, the premise and all these pieces of La Brea work. On paper, this show should work and just might pull things off. Unfortunately, the acting and plotting are clunky and the character development spotty at best.
Truth is, it’s hard to care about these characters. The pilot tries to throw together all of the characters way too quickly. We’re introduced to a man named Ty (Chiké Okonkwo) who is caring, but clearly going through his own stuff.
There’s a natural-born leader who attempts to get everyone working together but is also an overprotective father and on the reverse side of things a cop who can’t be trusted and is stealing food within hours of being sent into the sinkhole. There’s even a kooky guy who seems a bit out of it. Smartly, the show’s writers have a character reference Lost right away since there are some easy comparisons you can make to this cast versus Lost.
The supernatural element is more of a cheap tease at this point than a fleshed-out concept. There’s the reveal of odd-looking birds flying out of the sinkhole, and a general idea that the sinkhole isn’t simply a hole, but there isn’t much else shown.
There’s an attack by a very big predator, but even that holds very little in regards to where these characters are and what they might encounter. Are there dinosaurs, monsters, aliens? What is out there that threatens them? In Lost, we had the pilot get sucked out of a window from something that sounded like a T-Rex, but here we get a boring wolf and not much else.
This might all even itself out as the show goes on mind you, pilot episodes tend to serve as a taste tester to get greenlit after all, but that can’t save it from the overacting and dull characters. Eve is a solid mother figure — though she does look way too young — but she ends up being only a mother figure and not much more. Josh and Eve are basically playing tropes of the mother and son dynamic here. Josh also gets a nasty cut that turns into a scream fest that feels forced and simply there to amp up the danger that’s barely there.
Then you have Gavin who has visions of things and clearly doesn’t have his life together but tries his best with his daughter Izzy. When what appears to be ancient birds fly out of the sinkhole, Gavin delivers some of the clunkiest dialogue you’ll see all year. He “can’t let it go” and says in a deadly serious tone he needs to “talk to somebody in charge.” Izzy replies with confusion, “tell them what?” It’s overacting for sure, but partly the problem is the show hasn’t done the work to let these characters react to the deaths of their family.
Running 42 minutes long, this episode could have easily been double in length to allow for character work and establishing its main conflicts. Instead, it forces viewers to get to know these characters based on familiar tropes, rushed dialogue to progress the plot, and janky reveals.
At one point, Ty is seen pointing a very large handgun up into his head, only to be caught in the act and forced to stop. At this point, we have no idea what is going on with this character and soon he’s forced to help out when he’s clearly not in a good place. It feels like a rushed way to introduce the “suicidal character” to establish the main characters in play have different personalities and perspectives. It simply comes off as cheap.
As a huge fan of Lost, La Brea is a show I want to love, but it’s too early to tell if this is a show that should be avoided entirely or something you should hang in for. As it stands, the pilot has the bones to make for a great show, but it’s not doing enough to make you want to follow these characters through mysteries that seem so-so at best. La Brea has the chance to be unique as a great disaster show with supernatural elements so I’ll stick around for more, but only as long as it can sustain chats with friends for better or worse.
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