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April 15, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | April 15, 2007 |

OK, OK, OK, so … wait. It’s about a race or something, right?

Not a race. The race.

And, like, nobody knows about it, yet it’s been going on forever?

“A secret, exclusive and illegal cross-country road race.” As old as cars themselves. Yes.

And the winner gets money?

Thirty-two million dollars, tax free.

And what about the family member of mine that you kidnapped?

Yeah, them too. If you win.

And if I lose?

“Try not to be last. It’s … bad … to be last.”

OK, so I just have to get somewhere fast.

No. We explained this at orientation.

Yeah, but you know I missed orientation, asshole.

“Well let me orient you. This isn’t just a race of speed, it’s a game of strategy. Getting there fast is never going to be enough. You have to get there smart.”

* * *

So, yeah, if you couldn’t figure out the premise of “Drive” from the on-the-nose promos Fox has been shoving down our throats for a month now, the show goes out of its way to reiterate the premise repeatedly. And as you might expect with a show about an illegal road race, it’s best to check your brain and any indignation at the door (but remember to tip the check-girl well or Fox just might keep your stuff — I have it on good authority that brains are in short supply on the Fox studio lot). However, this doesn’t mean “Drive” is a bad show. Or at least, it’s not an awful show. It’s not a good show either, in any objective sense, but it has the potential to be perfectly fine mindless entertainment. In fact, “Drive” fits nicely into the timeslot that used to belong to “Prison Break” (after tonight’s two-hour premiere, the show moves to its regular time slot of Mondays at 8 p.m.), another show that has been entertaining despite bad acting, worse dialogue, and utterly preposterous plot contrivances.

Bad acting? Check. Worse dialogue? Check. Utterly preposterous plot contrivances? Check.

“Drive” is basically “Prison Break” on wheels.

I’m not sure how many teams are actually in the race (I think, at one point, they said there were 42 teams or 42 individual people involved but, truthfully, I wasn’t paying terribly close attention), but the focus of the story for the viewers’ purpose is on just a few teams. There’s the young Iraq vet and his hot little girlfriend who’s worried about him getting called back. There’s the fresh-out-of-the-clink ex-convict who is racing with his rich and pampered half-brother who, of course, has only just learned that this spic ex-con is his half-brother. There’s the new mother, who also happens to be a meek-willed abused wife, who starts the race solo but picks up a partner in the course of an elimination round. Then there’s the nerdy astrophysicist dad (points given for including an astrophysicist, points taken for making him nerdy) and his precious teen daughter — and given that the dad is played by Dylan Baker, who was the creepy yet surprisingly sympathetic pedophile in Happiness, I was relieved that she was only his daughter.

But the central team is Alex Tully (Nathan Fillion) and the random blonde chick he has just met who … shockingly … may not be all that she says she is. Tully is a Nebraska man who’s been forced into participating in the race with the promise that his recently missing (and possibly kidnapped) wife will be waiting for him at the finish line. If he wins. Like the other contestants in the race, he received a mysterious cell phone, and then got an equally mysterious call on the phone from a dude telling him to drive down to Key West post-haste. Which is where the great race starts from this year.

During the race, the participants get clues on those same cell phones via text messages — clues which, when figured out, will tell them where they need to go to next. The clues eventually lead the teams to checkpoints, which are the equivalent to pit stops on “The Amazing Race.” It’s unclear if there are any perks that come with reaching a checkpoint first — say, a Travelocity-sponsored trip for two to Tahiti, which you can enjoy after the race — but there may sometimes be …consequences for showing up last.

And that’s the show. Invariably, there will be wrinkles and roadblocks which the racers will have to deal with (cops, a lack of funds for food and gas, people back home wondering where the hell they are, etc.). And Nebraska Man is also focusing his efforts not just on winning the race, but on trying to find out more about the rich and shrouded-in-mystery operators and sponsors of this great race. So far, most of what he and we know comes from the host and emcee of the race, played with a heaping pile of cheese by Charles Martin Smith (a “that guy” guy). We know that they are people we “wouldn’t want to meet,” and we know that they are very powerful and seemingly everywhere — folks working for them might be in the car next to you or serving you coffee in a diner, etc. But this mystery doesn’t really grip you or reel you, and neither do most other elements of this show. This is largely due to the fact that, while many of the actors have given decent-to-very-good performances in other roles, they’re all pretty much awful here. And that, in turn, is due to the fact that they’ve all been shoehorned into overly-stereotypical roles coupled with atrocious dialogue (and from Tim Minear, an executive producer and writer of cult favorites “Angel,” “Wonderfalls” and “Firefly,” one perhaps expects a little better on that front).

But look — all you really need to know about the show is encapsulated by the following. About 15 minutes into the first hour, we get a scene accompanied by a cover of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” At that moment, I immediately asked myself, “self — how long until we get Golden Earrings’ ‘Rader Love,’ the quintessential driving song?” The answer was “about an hour later,” although it was also a cover version, and a particularly terrible one at that. Everything about “Drive” is like this - -a bit too obvious and on the nose.

And despite these complaints, the show is fun enough. It’s not really on the same level of over-the-top fun as “Prison Break” has mostly been (for me, at least), but it could get close. It could also go south very quickly, turning into a steaming pile. But given the lack of anything better to watch on Mondays at 8, I’ll keep tuning in for the moment to see which way it goes. At the very least, it’ll dull my senses enough so that I can bear its follow-up, the increasingly infuriating and almost insufferable “24.”

Actually, I think the two shows should merge. I’d love to see Jack Bauer in this race. He’d kill half of the other contestants, take down the mysterious sponsors, maybe bang a waitress or two along the way, and of course win the whole damn thing. In a beat up Ford Pinto, no less, without ever stopping to sleep or eat. That’s how Jack rolls drives.

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. Apparently, he has been deemed Seth “The Orangutan” Freilich. Which is OK because, according to Wikipedia, “orangutans are remarkably intelligent” and spend “nearly all of their time in the trees.” Seth has often been described in exactly the same terms.

I'm Still Not Sure I Get the Premise

"Drive" / The TV Whore
Apr. 15, 2007

TV | April 15, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.


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