'The Event' is a head-scratcher, by design

The conspiracy thriller stars Jason Ritter ("The Class") as Sean Walker, whose investigation into the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend leads him into one of the biggest cover-ups in U.S. history. "The Event" premieres on Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. ET.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010

One episode in, the event in NBC's "The Event" seems to be the disappearance of a planeload of people, which happens just as their highjacked airliner is about to dive-bomb a photo-op at the Florida vacation compound frequented by the president of the United States. There's a flash of light and the plane vanishes into what sci-fans will interpret as a wormhole just seconds before impact.

To tell it to you like a teenager would, everybody on the plane's all "Whaaat?" And the president's all "Hunnh?" And the viewers're all "Dag, yo!'

Here, then, is this fall's intentionally obscure head-scratcher. Debuting Monday night, "The Event" is a cynical grab for the orphaned fans of both "Lost" and "24," a hybrid drama incorporating threats to national security and a minority president by a group of terrorists (a la "24") and supernatural episodes of dislocation and unexplained phenomena (a la "Lost").

The come-ons are everywhere in this show, from the vaguely Oceanic color scheme on the doomed airliner to the very CTU-like font choice in the title cards, which tell you the names of characters and what day and hour this is.

You'll need those title cards. "The Event" prefers the layering effects of today's non-linear narrative device, so each scene comes with a time stamp based on its relation to the event: 23 hours before. Eleven days before. Eight minutes before. The first episode unfurls in no particular chronological order except the order that the writers have dictated, which demands that each episode ends in a cliffhanger. I can only imagine what the pushpin board of 3-x-5 note cards must look like in that conference room, but I'm sure the night janitorial staff is under strict orders to touch nothing, lest the whole show go to hell.

That may have already happened. "The Event" is an intentional mess, daring you to go wherever it thinks it's going. Within the first five minutes, potential viewers will have to make their own personal choice: Am I up for this?

If you get hooked on "The Event" -- and I'm not saying you shouldn't; the first episode is frenetically tempting if a tad mediocre -- then you are setting yourself up for heartbreak, of the sort suffered by those hardy fools who fell for "FlashForward" last season.

If "The Event" gets canceled, you'll always wonder where it was headed, and worse, you'll be sending TV critics e-mails desperately asking if "The Event" is going to be picked up by some cable network. But if "The Event" does all right in ratings, then you may have to put up with extra layers of convolution for a season or longer, while the writers try to crawl out of a complicated hole of their own digging. I feel there ought to be some sort of federal Viewer Protection Act governing series like "The Event": A mandatory 13-episode arc -- no more, no less -- until we all agree that the show is at least mildly interesting, or Entertainment Weekly features the show (with headlines such as "Secrets revealed! New answers!") on its cover, whichever comes first.

I wish I could say more about "The Event," but it flew by so exasperatingly fast that I barely had time to notice. (And anyhow, I'll probably get a ticket from the spoiler police for telling you already about the plane disappearing.)

Laura Innes (Dr. Kerry Weaver from "E.R.") is always a pleasure to see; here she's Sophia, a mysterious and controversial figure who seems to have the key to a terrorist plot and also a passing knowledge of the supernatural physics that cause the in-need-of-an-expert event. Blair Underwood plays President Elias Martinez (part Cuban-American), and he seems up to the task. The show's first panicky, and thereby most engaging, performance comes from Jason Ritter, who starts the episode on a Caribbean cruise vacation with his girlfriend and by episode's end is fleeing from menacing men and trying to prevent the event. Wouldn't you know that his [spoiler redacted] is piloting the plane.

I, for one, have decided I can't do anything about preventing the event, nor will I help plan for the event or worry about the event; I have something else scheduled. So do let me know how the event went.

The Event, (one hour) premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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