Monday, August 28, 2006

A Second Look at "Vanished"

Since I haven't posted to the blog in a week -- a combination of shake-ups on the job and an absence of time in general -- I figured I should sit down with the second episode of FOX's "Vanished" to see if things have gotten any better since the pilot, which I wasn't enthralled by.

The short answer: It hasn't gotten any better. It's still an over-populated kidnapping drama without an iota of urgency, with a bland main cast and a barely-hinted-at mythology that isn't going to be nearly as cool as creator Josh Berman seems to suspect it will be. Since watching this stuff is at least *somewhat* what I do for a living, I'll probably stick with the show for a couple weeks, at least until "Heroes" premieres on Sept. 25. That should coincide pretty well with the end of the show's pre-baseball run on FOX. Folks on The Net are already buzzing with rumors of a "shocking" twist at the end of that episode and I've gotten independent confirmation that the rumors are true. And that's all I'll say about that.

In the interest of generosity, a few things that are improved:

**John Allen Nelson: Maybe this past season of "24" was too fresh in my mind when I watched the pilot, but I didn't give Nelson enough credit. We're not supposed to be sure whether to trust Senator Collins and he pulls of the ambiguity well.

**Esai Morales: It was just a good idea to cast a lawman with a bit of credibility, which Morales has thanks to "NYPD Blue." He didn't have much to do in the second episode, but he seemed sure of himself on screen, which is more than one can say for most of the cast.

Umm... Yeah. That's about it. I didn't mind some of the high tech gizmos the FBI seems to be using and the idea of being able to follow someone through Atlanta via a series of surveillance cameras with various purposes isn't bad.

Some things that still to work:

**It Looks Generic: I don't care how much director Mimi Leder pushes the camera around and how many *whoosh* effects take us through phone lines or whatever. "Vanished" just looks cheap, like the very worst episodes of "24," the episodes where you just know they're trying to save money so that they can blow up Air Force One in a couple weeks. The explosion in the mine-shaft beneath some tunnel where Gale Harold's Agent Kelton sees a flashing red light, we get a close-up on his "Oh No!" eyes and then things go boom was the stuff of syndicated action shows, probably lower in production values than, say, "Xena." There's no personality to the FBI offices, the Senator's home or, frankly, any of the environs. And does anybody out there know Atlanta? Does the show feel like it's really set there? "24" feels like it's set in Los Angeles. To me, "Vanished" feels like it's set in an American Uber-City.

**The Actors Are Generic: Harold is bland, but that's almost a blessing compared to poor Ming-Na. I can't tell if she's done in by the wretched writing in the second episode, or if she just isn't the least bit convincing as government agent. Regardless, her flat delivery is matched only by the Senator's anonymous kids and the slew of undistinguished supporting players working behind-the-scenes in either the FBI settings or on the Senator's staff. It's here that I admit that it took me a very long time to warm up to Carlos Bernard and Reiko Aylesworth on "24." They seemed like flat soap opera rejects to me for more than a season. The difference was that Kiefer Sutherland has always been a magnetic center for "24," while no such center exists on the excessively diffuse "Vanished." The addition of Eddie Cibrian to the cast isn't likely to change this for me. My rhetorical question: How much better with "Vanished" be with Bill Fichtner in the Harold role? Fichtner is an actor with the intensity to do what Kiefer does on "24."

**The "Centuries Old Mystery" Isn't Worth It: A writing mentor, Paul Hendrickson, was prone to using the expression "But is the game worth the candle?" whenever a student put too much effort into a writing flourish that couldn't hold up. So far, the "Vanished" team has done nothing to suggest that the religious mumbo-jumbo is doing anything more than detracting from the already lackluster kidnapping plot.

**It's Humorless: Good writers make sure that there's tonal variation. A well-written wise-cracking sidekick doesn't need to drain tension, but he can keep a self-serious show from drowning in its monotony. Currently, "Vanished" is drowning in its monotony.

**Flashbacks Just Stink: In general, unless you're "Lost," you probably shouldn't be using "Flashbacks." And you particularly shouldn't be doing flashbacks involving Josh Hopkins with a bad Massachusetts accent shot through a greenish-yellow filter. Hopkins isn't the worst of actors, but he probably shouldn't have me thinking about how much better he was back on "North Shore."

I could actually go on with this one, but it's getting late and "Vanished" isn't suddenly getting more worthy of discussion. As I've said, though, I will keep watching it. It's on after "Prison Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" (or "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Prison Break") and I'm sticking with that one for a while too.

Did anybody else watch the second episode of "Vanished"? Thoughts?


  1. Anonymous7:52 PM

    The writers of this program, obviously, learned about criminal procedure and politicians from other television writers who know nothing about those topics. I am becoming tired of writers who know absolutely nothing about the professions of their protagonists save what they have cobbled together from watching other prime time shows (themselves written by equally lazy writers). We have the political aide who speaks in platitudes about the political consequences of the senator's action or inaction. We have the same tired phrases that are bandied about in any show involving federal law enforcement agents. Everything is so generic; there is no attention to detail, no reason to believe that these characters dedicate their lives to these professions. All of this is separate and apart from the general blandess of the show and the conspiracy plotline which is obviously supposed to fascinate the viewer. It doesn't. This show has no future.

    - JMD

  2. If you're gonna write smart things, you should totally include a name of some sort, rather than being anonymous!

    You are, of course, correct that "Vanished" is a Frankenstein's monster of bits gleaned from other, mostly better, shows. I was musing on the meaninglessness of the technical dialogue throughout the show. It's just a mess.

    That being said, the show's ratings remained entirely stable from its first week to its second and it's holding a good amount of the Prison Break audience. It's not a hit by any means and I imagine it'll get clobbered by regularly scheduled programming after FOX puts it on a baseball hiatus, but for now the network is probably perfectly happy with the results.

    And that's just sad.


  3. Anonymous1:38 PM

    I feel the exact same way about this one as you, Dan. I am watching for now, but as soon as something more interesting comes along, I am so out.

    Along with it being so generic, I am really having a problem with the mystery element. It feels so much like a rip-off of Da Vinci, and I could barely stand Da Vinci the first time around. Also, when a reality show as lame as Treasure Hunters rips of Da Vinci before you do, maybe it's time to go in a different direction. I don't know. Just a thought.

    Oh, and spot-on that Bill Fitchner as the FBI agent would have made this show 1,000 times better immediately. He is really making Season 2 of Prison Break work for me. (He was also the main reason I stuck with Invasion to the end as well.)

  4. Hey Carrie...

    I know they want us to *think* that "Vanished" is a rip-off of Da Vinci, but I'm not even sure there's any evidence that something that sophisticated is going on. And that's not sayin' something good about the creative direction of the show.

    It'll be interesting to see how quickly viewers flee when any sort of real programming -- including regular season Monday Night Football -- starts airing against it. It'll also be interesting to see how viewers respond to the big twist. If the IMDB message boards are any indication, people are decidedly wary.

    At the end of the day, people have very very little taste. So sad...