Monday, April 16, 2007

Drive

Wow.

Drive is really good, you guys. Honestly, I didn't dare hope, but Drive is really, really good.

This may be a little premature. I've only watched one of last night's two premiere episodes, and haven't even gone near the third episode, from tonight.

But based on that one episode, wow. Drive is really good.

If Lost is just the scripted drama version of Survivor (and it is--literally, that's where the idea began), Drive is the scripted drama equivalent of The Amazing Race.

It may be benefiting somewhat from lowered expectations; watch any of the ads for it, and its thin, laughable premise--strangers participate in a mysterious, illegal underground cross-country road race--promises a good time, but that's no guarantee the show would deliver.

So far, it has. The show is sort of ridiculous, of course, but--appropriately enough--it moves. From the get-go, right from the silly intro voice-over ("As long as there have been cars, there have been races..."), you are moving, constantly moving, and here are a bunch of people you will get to know on the way.

It helps that our main viewer surrogate is Firefly's charismatic Nathan Fillion. It's doubtful his character here will ever be as well-drawn as Firefly's Mal Reynolds, but he brings the same level of magnetism. His tortured, driven (pardon the pun) tough-guy with a twinge of humor is as compelling to watch as ever.

We also get Melanie Lynskey, of Two and a Half Men, as a new mom on the run. As in Two and a Half Men and her twisted guest role on The Shield, Lynskey excels at playing women who are sweet and innocuous on the outside but who are probably dangerously crazy just below the surface.

Another subplot, in which a recently released ex-con teams up with his half-brother to stick it to their rich, politically ambitious father, is also pretty engaging in a pulpy sort of way.

A few other characters are around who have yet to make much of an impression, but these three leads are our anchors, and they pull us breathlessly through the hour, Fillion and Lynskey especially. They are introduced quickly and effectively. Fillion's missing wife and Lynskey's possibly sinister husband tell us all we need to know--the stakes are high and they are desperate. Sure, it's silly, but it's all so fast. Simple, clear: here's the people, here's the race, go. Like Run Lola Run.

In a way, Drive is an excellent case study in the screenwriting lesson that the most important thing you can do is to take a character, give them a problem and a goal, and turn them loose. So far, Drive has that and not much else. But it sustains it perfectly, and that pared-down energy is what makes it so wonderful. Besides, we can always pick up the rest on the road.

I love it. I only wish it weren't on against How I Met Your Mother. When HIMYM starts playing new episodes again, Monday nights are going to get complicated.

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