TV Preview: Tom Shales on Syfy's 'Warehouse 13'

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You can expect plenty of "fi" but very little "sci" from "Warehouse 13," a drama series about the mystical, the occult, the paranormal and the just plain annoying. It premieres tonight at 9 with a two-hour pilot on the Sci Fi Channel, except that as of today the channel has a new name: Not Sci Fi but Syfy. Seriously.

"Syfy" looks as if it could be pronounced "See-Fee," which sounds like a pay-TV operation, but the folks at Syfy and its wacky owner, NBC, seem to think that, however dumb it may look in type, Syfy is catchier. And since no one knows for sure what Syfy is, the channel's output can't really be criticized for failing to uphold a genre.

But to get back to the point, perhaps one could say the new series is short on Sy but long on Fy. Oh, the heck with it.

The warehouse of the title is a cavernous depot that looks like the world's biggest indoor flea market and is somewhere in the wilds of South Dakota. Inside can be found every weird little knickknack and paddywhack collected by the U.S. government since its founding. If your first thought is that it must then be the home of the Ark of the Covenant, stashed away at the conclusion of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," forget about it. There's no mention of that, at least on the premiere. Don't look for MGM's magnificent Robby the Robot or citizen Charles Foster Kane's beloved Rosebud, either.

Still, there could well be a dubious treasure trove of spooky old movie and TV scripts salted away in the place, considering how much is borrowed from Stuff That Came Before. "Warehouse 13" is haunted by the derivative ghosts of shows past.

Exhibit A: The teasey, breezy boy-girl heroes, a pair of Secret Service agents named Pete and Myka and played by Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly. They are the latest in a long, long line of spoofing sleuth teams that would include Booth and Brennan of Fox's "Bones" (returning in the fall, surprisingly) and, of course, Mulder and Scully from "The X-Files." And if you want to go way back, Nick and Nora Charles of the "Thin Man" movies. And so on.

Pete and Myka find themselves plucked up from their normal lives of protecting the president and plopped down in the aforementioned South Dakota wilderness. There they stumble upon Warehouse 13, not knowing what significance it will play in a messy mystery they're investigating.

Easily the most irritating thing inside the building is its plump chatterbox of a curator, played by Saul Rubinek, an actor who specializes in making a nuisance of himself. (Note to producers: When looking for actors to spell out needed background and exposition, try to find an actor who doesn't mutter incoherently or swallow his words the way Rubinek does.) More than once you might want to clobber him, or at least shout: "What??? What did you say???"

Back at headquarters, strings are pulled surreptitiously by CCH Pounder as the secret, hush-hush administrator of the clandestine, highly classified warehouse and of the dramas that flare up from time to time there. On the premiere, the mystery involves a young man who uncharacteristically attacks his girlfriend while shouting an Italian curse; Lucrezia Borgia; a strangely magical trinket that casts a magically strange light; a large pile of cow poo; and what could be Harry Houdini's checkbook.

Whatever. As Kelly laments at one point, "This is crazy, this is crazy." Also, for the first hour, off-puttingly poky. But if you stay with it, the mysteriousness of it all is kind of seductive, and the disparate strands of plot and subplots do eventually come together -- sort of. Basically it's a half-baked adventure series, but it's July, and fully baked may just not be the way to go.

Warehouse 13 (one hour, after the two-hour premiere) debuts tonight at 9 on Syfy.

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