The Event

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Sept. 24 2010 8:25 PM

The Event

The search for the next Lost continues. . . I think.

The Event. Click image to expand.
Blair Underwood as President Eli Martinez

In launching The Event (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET), NBC has lurched off in an attempt to create "the next Lost." The network's chase is so feverish that it's impossible to describe the puzzled new series without invoking the puzzling old one. This is the case partly because The Event's dedication to provoking puzzlement is such that there is very little else to describe thus far.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

I say this not to disparage the show but to define it. The Event, shrouded in mystery by necessity, is one of those shows—a whodunit spun into a big whatsit built to keep the audience scratching for answers, solving for X-files. Dots of plot appear—secret prisons, lying spymasters, shootings, disappearances, spacetime headscratchers—and patiently await connection. The pilot focuses notably on transport—a cruise ship, a jetliner, a presidential motorcade—as if to communicate that the audience is embarking on an elaborate journey. Or else being taken for a ride.

Our hero is Sean Walker, whose surname nods to his everyman status, and who, as played by Jason Ritter, has got an Ethan Hawke thing going on. With his thin goatee (skuzzy or rugged?), his impassioned stare (piercing or loony?), and a slim frame (waif-fragile or punk-wiry?), Sean cuts a nicely ambiguous figure. Is he a grubby little hood or a scruffy young rebel? Early signs pointed to the former. Squirrelly on a plane taxiing down a runaway, he waved a gun around the cabin, demanding access to the cockpit, which is no way to ingratiate yourself with the audience, much less the flight attendant.

At this point, The Event did what it does best, which is to skip back through time. (The chronology is sliced nicely enough to inspire confidence that, despite a few indications otherwise, the proceedings are in fact coherent.) Shuffled among other scenes—of a shadowy military compound in Alaska, of a shady CIA director not quite explaining that facility to his president (Blair Underwood)—were visions of a Sean from the week before. Here was an average cutie on a Caribbean cruise with his charming girlfriend, nothing but a nervous romantic. His cheeks flushed with ardor. His fingers futzed with an engagement ring. The couple was blandly cute, and they were doomed, which took the edge off the blandness.

The enthusiastic viewer absorbed all of the cooing and courting with heightened attention to detail and then took pleasure in letting his paranoia perk up at the couple's sudden friendship with another pair of young lovers. Watching a conventional mystery, you keep an eye out for clues. Watching these post-Lost sci-fi-mytho-mystery series, you also watch yourself watching, and the thrill of alertness passes for decent entertainment even when other pleasures are in short supply. When Sean returned from a day trip to find that his girlfriend had vanished as if redacted from the file of life, I was kind of glad to see her gone. With her murky disappearance out of the way, we were on our way to achieving clarity—or at least toward failing to achieve it.

While we sit around waiting for coincidences to blossom into conspiracies, we twiddle our thumbs and ponder the readily ponderable. "The Event is Not the Next Lost," "The Event: Attempting a Lost Connection," "NBC Really Wants Lost Fans to Watch The Event," "The Event: Haven't We Seen This Before?". It is not the first show to inspire such probing—"Is FlashForward the Next Lost?," "FlashForward is NOT the Next Lost"—and it will not be the last, and I'd actually be excited to take a gander at a meta-show along the lines of In Search of the Next Lost, which would strand producers and programming executives on a desert island with a monster bent on destroying their plot resolutions.

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