Television

Drive

Deemed a failure after just four episodes, Drive was the only new drama to catch my imagination this year.

Drive

Airtime: 8pm ET
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Kristin Lehman, Rochelle Aytes, Dylan Baker, Melanie Lynskey
Network: Fox
US release date: 2007-04-15
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When Family Guy came back to Fox in 2005, the wicked Seth MacFarlane had Peter Griffin open the first new episode by listing all the Fox shows that had debuted and been cancelled during Family Guy's three year hiatus. I think he listed 29 shows, and I'm pretty sure he missed Opposite Sex. His point was that Fox was moronic to cancel Family Guy, but the observation was right even beyond that argument: Fox cancels an awful lot of shows.

Drive is the latest victim of Fox's hatchet. Deemed a failure after just four episodes, Drive was the only new drama to catch my imagination this year. If you haven't seen it, and obviously most people haven't, it was an exotic three-way between the first season of Lost, Cannonball Run, and The Amazing Race, with lashings of Hitchcockian paranoia on the side.

I'm missing it already.

As Lost heads rudderless into some sort of desperate M. Night Shyamalan-esque Bermuda Triangle, and 24 worms its way further up its own anal tract with each extended torture sequence, the time was ripe for a smart new action drama. I had genuine hopes for the high tempo escapist fun and intrigue of Drive.

Pitched at a speed that allowed you blissfully to ignore the many gaping holes in its storyline, Drive was still rich with characters, mysteries, and conspiracies of all kinds. Drive did precisely what it said on the can. An ensemble cast of indeterminate size -- much like the plane crash "survivors" in Lost -- was invited to the Florida Keys to take part in a "secret illegal cross country road race" with a first prize of $32M. Some racers, including Nathan Fillion's Alex, were given extra incentives. Alex's wife had been kidnapped and he was given to understand he would only get her back if he entered and won the race.

Sadly, we'll never get to see Alex reunited with Kathryn (Amy Acker), who had begun to appear to him in Lost-like hallucination sequences, or discover where the finish line was. Or learn the many dark secrets of an SICCRR that has apparently existed in one form or another for more than 50 years. Well, not unless Tim Minear turns his idea into a movie.

Hey! It could happen! After all, Minear was Joss Whedon's sidekick on Firefly which, after cancellation by Fox, grew up to become the movie Serenity.

Fillion was also the lead in Firefly, and so he's beginning to develop an unfortunate reputation as the action hero first-born of Rena Sofer and Ted McGinley. Although Whedon's Buffy, The Vampire Slayer was already scheduled to close at the end of its seventh season, it can hardly have been a coincidence that Nathan The Season Slayer was cast as the psychopathic defrocked priest Caleb who dominated much of the show's final five episodes. Fillion also had a recurring role in Alicia Silverstone's ill-fated Miss Match and, of course, he even had a walk-on role in the current exasperating season of Lost as Castaway Killer Kate's ex-husband Kevin.

So: is Drive's demise an inevitable consequence of its casting? Or is Fillion perhaps an innocent victim of an obscure but vicious contest between Rupert Murdoch and Tim Minear? Not one of Minear's four shows for Fox has lasted longer than half a season: Firefly, the excellent Wonderfalls, the thoroughly meh The Inside, and now, Drive. Whatever the truth, someone should certainly stop Fillion, Minear, and Fox from ever sitting down together again.

As someone (I think it was Morrissey) once said, "To lose one new show may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose all of them looks like carelessness." Fox has now lost Drive. The Wedding Bells (after five episodes), Vanished (which rushed to a premature conclusion), and the superior Justice. The cookie-cutter-awful Standoff has been on the sort of extended vacation that can surely only signal a final flurry of unshown episodes at a quiet spot in the summer schedule before it too disappears into the fiery pit of cancellation.

You just have to thank God Veronica Mars was a UPN show.

But is Fox really to blame for cancelling Wonderfalls, Justice, and Drive? Or should it be praised for at least having the courage to commission them in the first place? My money, after much consideration, is on the latter. Certainly Fox can't be accused of failing to promote Drive. Short of scheduling it to run immediately after American Idol, it's hard to think what else the network could have done. Of course, Fox might have persevered in the face of poor ratings, or given Drive another chance in the summer, or followed Heroes' tack: repetition and lots of it until viewers finally get it. Drive can't have been cheap to make, certainly not in comparison to a studio-bound set-piece like House, and someone somewhere always has to answer to the bean-counters.

The blame here, I think, lies not with Nathan Fillion, Tim Minear, or even Rupert Murdoch, but with the viewers. U.S. couch potatoes have become so obsessed with fatuous Z-list slebs, talent contests, and inane greed-based game shows that they're unable to maintain interest in anything else. As someone else (I think it was H.L. Mencken) once said, "The public wants what the public gets."

The sad consequence of American viewers' inability to support an occasional continuing storyline is that I'm increasingly reluctant to invest anything of myself in any new show until it reaches its second season. I'm beginning to prefer the Netflix Boxset viewing model to TiVo. I doubt I'm the only one. Unfortunately, this tactic will only make me part of the ratings problem, but really, what else is a girl to do?

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