In the race to find the next Lost, the Sci-Fi Channel’s entry concerns a planned government community of geniuses. Eureka focuses on the conspiratorial shenanigans at their research facility and the average-IQed U.S. marshal who stumbles into the mystery. Named for the town that houses this community — a kind of Epcot for savants — the show began with a bang, dragged a bit, then finished with events pilfered from the Roland Emmerich School of Specious Apocalypse. Once all the Sturm und Drang of the two-hour pilot was over, we were left with too many questions and scant answers.

Our hero, Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) is carting his delinquent daughter back to her L.A.-based mom when his car went off the road. Next thing they knew, Jack and Zoe (Jordan Hinson) were not only sniping at each other, but also at the local Eureka law force, including Sheriff Cobb (Maury Chaykin) and his ex-Army deputy, Jo (Erica Cerra) — who sounds like she Solider of Fortune and manufactures her own ammo.

After befriending the town’s only mechanic, a former NASA engineer named Henry (Joe Morton) who can turn any auto into an atomic transport with a simple tune-up, Jack suddenly found he was in the right place at a particular time. That is, when a temporal anomaly started wreaking havoc, Department of Defense liaison Allison Blake (Salli-Richardson-Whitfield) requested his assistance. It wasn’t long before Jack was butting heads with brilliant psychiatrist Beverly (Debrah Farantino), biological containment specialist Jim (Matt Frewer), and the egotistical big-wigs at the Advanced Research Facility. Seems these ominous occurrences have something to do with the military, a secret weapons program, and the mysterious lab known as Section 5.

Such a set-up should create all kinds of interesting conflicts, even occasional flights of speculative fiction. But Eureka‘s pilot was unconflicted and lacking speculation. When Carter borrowed a solar car to cruise cautiously down Eureka’s Main Street, the sight of geometrically odd soap bubbles, clones, and various demonstrations of levitation caused him little concern. Neither did the sight of a half-hollowed-out RV or a rapidly aging section of pasture. In fact, he appeared altogether nonplused by the many oddities he encountered.

And so, though he’s established as the sole “normal” note in a quirky situation, Carter actually comes across exactly the opposite. While his new neighbors strive for a “big picture” understanding of what’s going on and function in happy harmony, he’s a mass of anxieties and issues. A mostly absent father who’s overly dedicated to his job, Jack is also plagued by a tripwire temper and social awkwardness, both making him difficult to like.

That said, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for any of Eureka’s denizens. Though Henry is all optimism and sunshine and Cobb shows substantial grace under grinding governmental pressures, they are only briefly onscreen, the better to expand on Carter and Blake’s burgeoning mutual affection (obvious and very forced), the secretive actions of the ARF, and the slightly slapstick relationship between the villainous Warren King (Greg Germann) and his loony lackey. (Sadly, it appears from the pilot’s final scenes that Germann is being “transferred,” and another villain, played by Ed Quinn, will be stepping in.) Indeed, Eureka appears too enamored of its various oddballs to be anything more than a novelty show.

While Twin Peaks initially seduced viewers with the mystery at its center and Lost continues to confound, Eureka offers no compelling hook. What looks to be a “phenomenon of the week” plotting doesn’t inspire confidence. As everyone in town is more or less similar — they’re all smart and slightly neurotic, with Ferguson seeming almost an interloper in his own series — the show relies on spectacle, comprised mainly of uninspired CGI. Perhaps the show’s biggest sin is its own lack of intelligence. The pilot episode’s imminent catastrophe was avoided by the kind of scriptwriting logic that mandates our heroes perform even more of the effects-heavy machinations that started the problem in the first place. None of the geniuses bats an educated eye at replicating the experiment that dismantled time originally.

In the end, it’s all for naught. Eureka lifts material from a dozen other sci-fi shows (and the occasional Northern Exposure-eque drama), so the result seems recycled. In the realm of the mastermind, originality still means something.


RATING 4 / 10