It's no surprise to learn the sci-fi suspenser
"Threshold" is being produced by "Star Trek" spin-offs veteran Brannon Braga.
This new alien-invasion hour gets around to sounding smart with fractional
geometry, chaos theory and DNA strands before its first hour is out.
It's also no surprise it's on CBS. The ploddingly measured pace of the show
gives it the same weight - deadly or deliberate, your choice - as all the
network's other procedural investigations. Throw in aliens, and change-o
presto, it's supposed to skew younger. It's "Trek"-y. It's even got Data!
But casting Brent Spiner in a quirky role does not a youthful stew make.
"Trek" itself is old news now, and the notion CBS doesn't know that does not
bode well for a concept that might otherwise be enlivened into something worth
Think of it as close encounters of the computer kind. Spooky forces have
assaulted the crew of a cargo freighter in the north Atlantic, unleashing a
"worst case scenario" of "the unthinkable" that, of course, requires the
attention of an "elite team" - this TV season's big drama buzzword. The
contingency analyst played by star Carla Gugino calls together a ragtag group
of experts to probe the ways in which a possible alien power is attempting to
download some sort of software into human beings that makes them go all gonzo.
For this task, she taps Spiner's microbiologist, a "former '60s radical -
stubborn as hell." Others introduced in such handy expository fashion include
Rob Benedict's loopy astrophysicist (and former "Jeopardy!" winner), Peter
Dinklage's linguist with a "gambling, booze and stripper problem" (he's also a
dwarf), and Brian Van Holt's intimidating ex-spy who provides the team's
muscle. Charles S. Dutton needs no intro for being their overbearingly solemn
government overseer. You can practically feel the nuts and bolts of the show's
structure being screwed into place. Would you be surprised to learn that Gugino
is one of those professional whiz women with no personal life who's haunted by
dark family secrets?
Thing is, the pilot's physical execution is pretty snazzy. The scenes on
the ship look sharp (and scary). The alien presence is intriguingly
represented, as is the role of technology. There's a good "gotcha" thrill every
segment of the premiere's first hour (the only half available for review by
deadline time). There's also a good deal of brutality and blood. This
demonstrates that alien invasion is not for the squeamish and this show is
probably not for young kids and other impressionables.
But just when "Threshold" is starting to grab you, it calms down to cut
back to experts conferring - each getting some curt comment to make, before
Gugino sums up with "We don't have time for fear, we don't have the luxury of
self-doubt. We've gotta stare into the face of the unknown and make damn sure
we don't blink." Then she's home with her dog, eating packaged food out of the
fridge, having creepy dreams. The first hour manages to feel both mechanical
and manipulative, without feeling truly exciting or even grounded anyplace.
Maybe Braga is just thrilled to be off the (space) ship. "Threshold" looks
ready to hopscotch locations in search of the alien secret, a la "X-Files." The
emotional tone feels like it wants to be warmer than that chilly saga yet
unsure how personal it's prepared to get. Viewers may find their threshold of
patience tested while "Threshold" figures that out.
THRESHOLD. Aliens invading? An elite team moves into action! Series premieres
tonight 9-11 p.m., then airs Friday at 9 on CBS/2.