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"I'm the sheriff. I'm sheriffing."

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | TV | August 18, 2010 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | TV | August 18, 2010 |

Eureka is a decent little show that’s been puttering along on SyFy since the network had more i’s and less y’s back in 2006. The nominal premise is that there is a top secret town in the Pacific northwest run by the government in which many of the top minds in the world live and work. The pilot put the average Joe sort of US Marshall Jack Carter (played by Colin Ferguson) into the role of town sheriff. The town frequently has conflicts between the military, which sinks enormous funding into the town, and the civilian scientists. The show has a basic formula in each episode: weird thing happens in town, Carter tries to figure out who’s responsible, with help from the sciency sorts he narrows it down to a particular project having unforeseen complications, the complications threaten to go out of control, Carter makes an everyman sort of common sense suggestion, the scientists implement, the world is saved.

But the show also has a surprising emotional depth, portraying genuine relationships between the characters. While there are romantic relationships that wax and wane, the relationships with staying power are the friendships, which is one of those things that you don’t notice is missing in a lot of shows. Sure, there are always teammates and comrades in arms, but in genre television in particular, shows tend to miss that very human angle. Oh, there will be the toss away scene where some of the bridge crew is playing cards or some such, but then the serious matter of the episode will kick in. “Eureka” doesn’t let those relationships fade out whenever the main meat of the episode is on screen. Jack and Henry make sweet odd couple friends, and Jack’s antagonistic relationship with Stark was gold. They just didn’t like each other. It doesn’t mean they can’t work together, but it doesn’t mean they’re not going to throw barbs out while they do. Jack’s relationship with his daughter Zoe is both sweet and uncontrived.

The show’s humor is its strongest component, anchored on Colin Ferguson’s absolute gift for comic timing and playing out the audience’s voice in conversation. “Now you’re just stringing words together!” When technobabble gets dense. “Well that can’t be good.” When the show’s hook has redwood trees sprouting instantaneously in the middle of a building. I mean, the character has an artificially intelligent talking house named Sarah, specifically because the programmer had an obsession with Sarah Michelle Gellar. And the house will make him steak and beer.

The fourth season opens with a significant change of pace, transporting five of the main characters back in time to the 1940s through one MacGuffin or another. The conclusion of the first episode sees them managing to get back home, but to a timeline that has been irreversibly changed with some positive and some negative ramifications for the characters. Henry is married to a woman he’d never before met. Jo never even dated her fiance. And Allison’s autistic son no longer has autism. It’s a clever way of performing a minor reboot of the show. Taking characters that are familiar and still have legs, but maneuvering them into completely different positions to see how it plays out.

The best part of the fourth season has been the addition of James Callis as Charles Grant, a genius contemporary of Einstein who helped found the original Eureka during the 1940s. He’s every bit as smooth as Baltar was at his best. “Eureka” had a hole left when Stark was killed near the beginning of season 3, and Grant’s mild antagonism of Carter fills that gap nicely.

The show is light hearted but what it reminds me of most, and this may be a lightning rod of blasphemy, is the original run of “Star Trek.” There are very few long running plot threads, with the show concentrating on telling an original science fiction story every week. And although “Eureka” certainly doesn’t have the literary sci-fi pedigree put into “Star Trek,” it cultivates a sense of wonder about the universe and an excitement for the scientific mode of thinking. There’s no magic here, there is always a reason behind what happens. It might devolve down into technobabble at some point, but there is a fundamental attempt to reconcile incredible events with an understanding of the universe.

Although I’ve enjoyed the show over the last few seasons, it’s also the type of show that would have enthralled me as a kid, with my stacks of Asimov paperbacks and the hopeless void of non-science fiction television other than “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Last week, SyFy announced that they’ve already picked up “Eureka” for a fifth season. The fourth season has the first five episodes up on Hulu, which is a week behind broadcast, with the sixth having broadcast last Friday.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.