Dude, Take a Thrill Pill

'Invasion' and 'Prison Break' sagas sagging already.

By Steve Burgess 22 Sep 2005 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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'Invasion' and 'Prison Break' are two of the most critically-acclaimed shows of the new TV season. Kind of makes me wonder if critics are grading on the curve.

ABC's 'Invasion', written and produced by former Hardy Boy/lame-o pop star Shaun Cassidy, debuted Wednesday night. Heavily hyped as the season's most exciting new offering, it opens with a hurricane which is actually the cover for an alien invasion.

Episode One leapt onto the screen in a blaze of cheap thrills and wafer-thin characters. A storm is raging! A cute little girl searches for a lost cat! She falls into a shallow puddle and thrashes around screaming! She is rescued by her dad! The cat is found safe! They all get into a truck! Suddenly the truck turns over! But everybody is OK! And I am already sick of all the bogus excitement!

Characters arrive wearing giant signs-Irresponsible Party Dude, Steady Guy, Inquisitive Reporter, etc. Writer Cassidy wastes not a nanosecond setting up all the dramatic conflict. "Why do you do this Mom?" shouts one young feller. "Why do you keep pushing people away?" An odd thing to shout at someone while the two of you are busy looking for a child in a hurricane, but hey, plot and character development can't wait on the weather.

Give me a break

'Prison Break', on Fox, sets up a wildly implausible scenario designed like a room full of mouse traps. A man gets himself sent to prison-a prison he designed-in order to break out his brother from Death Row. The prison nurse? Why, she's the governor's daughter-and apparently loves flirting with prisoners. No one will ever refer to this one as reality TV.

'24', what have you wrought? 'Invasion' and 'Prison Break' are both clearly patterned on the new thrill-ride, action-packed, plot-twist-every-minute paradigm pioneered by Kiefer Sutherland's CTU gang on the Fox Network. As for the supernatural element of 'Invasion', chalk that up to ABC's biggest new hit from last year, 'Lost'. (Which, by the way, entered its second season with the look of a show that is running to keep from falling down. 'Lost' is far more engaging than this year's crop of action newcomers. But spooky serials like 'Lost' are almost always more intriguing when they're posing mysterious questions. It's when the answers come that it all falls apart-viz. 'Twin Peaks' and 'X-Files'.)

'Wire' me, thanks

'Invasion' and 'Prison Break' are the latest fashion in serial action cartoons. When done well, continuing stories are my favorite form of TV drama. The best thing about these shows is dramatic momentum-unlike programs that focus on telling contained, single-episode stories, serials reward regular viewers who follow the steadily unfolding saga.

But the new shows are all about cardboard figures being churned through annoyingly frantic plots. And to make things worse, Invasion and Prison Break have the misfortune to appear alongside other dramatic series that prove just how well American television can be done. Not to sound like a broken record, but it is time for everyone to check out 'The Wire'.

In an earlier Tyee story, I raved about Season One of the HBO cop show, long since available on DVD. Having now seen Season Two (available on DVD at Videomatica in Vancouver, among other spots) my admiration has only increased. 'The Wire' is uncompromising TV-it requires, and rewards, close attention. It never goes for the easy angle or the cheap thrill. It is painfully realistic in its depiction of internal police politics. Rent 'The Wire'. Then see if you can still tolerate the likes of 'Invasion' and 'Prison Break'.

Tyee cultural observer Steve Burgess will appear at Word on the Street at Library Square in Vancouver at 4:30 on Sunday with other Tyeesters Dorothy Woodend, Mark Leiren-Young and Sarah Bynoe.  [Tyee]

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