Thoughts and Impressions – SyFy Rebranding and Warehouse 13

Despite having partially kept up with the transition of Sci-Fi Channel to its new brand of SyFy, I missed the date that the switch was made. It just snuck up on me. Which also meant that I missed the premier of one of the new shows I’ve been looking forward to quite a while: Warehouse 13. Luckily, @SyFy started talking about it on Twitter, and I was able to set my DVR to record the encore premier, which I finally had enough free time to watch.

First, let me say this: I love most of SyFy’s summer lineup. Specifically Eureka. I find it refreshing during the summer to be able to get off work and come home to something that doesn’t bog me down emotionally. I love me some heavy, serious drama as much as the next guy—I followed Battlestar Galactica every week as it aired, I watch LOST religiously, and I am trucking through The X-Files at a steady pace—but SyFy’s quirky shows that air during the summer really hit the spot for this time of year.

I was talking to a few people on Twitter, and the idea struck me that SyFy now has the option to really be a stellar niche network (more so than they already are). Yeah, there is always going to be room for the awesome, money-making, heavy stuff like Caprica in the Fall, but if SyFy were to put more energy and money into making more quirky science-fiction like Eureka and Warehouse 13 as well as actually put money into making SyFy Original movies like this weekend’s Sand Serpents a little higher quality (but not my much, mind you, because those movies are terrible in a fun way!), then the network would have a very defined and marketable niche, which is what sparked the rebranding to begin with.

And if SyFy really wanted to work that niche, here’s some advice: ditch the stuff like ECW and Ghost Hunters. I know the official line is that they consider “sci-fi” to be a broad term that covers a lot more than traditionally considered, but those have always seemed out of place to me. There’s a lot of money in targeting the serious geek demographic. If they just got some new original series with low budgets and high aspirations or put some cash into syndicating established cult shows (like they did with LOST and should do with, say, Firefly or Buffy: The Vampire Slayer), there would almost assuredly be an increase in ratings.

As far as the SyFy rebranding itself…I think it’s silly, honestly. I understand the PR and wanting an actual trademark, but it seems a little inane to me. Really, it doesn’t change anything as the channel itself is concerned. It just looks a bit silly in the corner of my TV screen. What it does do, however, is give the decades old network a chance at revitalizing itself with newer viewers who might have never paid attention to them because of their traditional moniker. There’s a small chance of tricking non-sci-fi enthusiasts to stopping by while channel surfing now.

What I do like about it is that now the channel is networking a little more with fans (at least from what I was previously aware of) through avenues like Twitter, and that’s always a good thing. It appears to me that perhaps the rebranding gave the execs and network a boost of morale since they finally have something to call their own. As long as the programming stays where I have always enjoyed it, then I don’t have a problem. I can pretty much get used to anything. I just hope that the network doesn’t fall into the doldrums it’s known for the past few years.

And as far as new programming that goes with the new name is concerned, Warehouse 13 was pretty close to what I expected. It was a little darker at times than I thought, but it was quick, fun, and had a sense of humor different from most other shows. The reason I fell in love with Eureka initially was because it felt like a quirky, fun X-Files that didn’t take itself so seriously. Warehouse 13 feels much the same. Like I said, it’s a little darker than Eureka, and that’s okay as long as it can balance the drama with light-hearted moments. While both of these shows (seemingly) have the capacity to delve into deeper issues when necessary, the predominant feeling presented in the pilot of Warehouse 13 is one of eccentricity. And I do so love eccentric science-fiction.

The show started off fairly slowly, but it was obvious from the beginning that there was personality there somewhere. It took a while to find it, admittedly, but once Artie was fully introduced, the show hits its comedic stride. Before Peter and Myka (the male and female leads, respectively) actually reached the Warehouse, I feared this would be another letdown of an overhyped but under-inspired show. And it still might be, but the pilot had enough energy to keep me watching, and the creative team (well, Jane Espenson, at least) has enough of a resume to ensure quality to come.

I could have really done with a little more explication in this particular episode. I feel that the writers went a little too far with “show, don’t tell” and left the mysteries the show has to answer too ambiguous. I mean, I get what the show is (the two leads are agents being assigned to search for known and unknown objects which possess unique properties outside the laws of physics), and I understand there are elements that need to be shrouded for storytelling’s sake, but I just don’t get why the creators couldn’t have been a bit more forthcoming with the plot. I’m the kind of guy who will tune in just because I think a concept is neat, even when a show is terrible (see: my DVR timers for Bionic Woman before the writers’ strike), but not everyone is as forgiving as I. This show only gave a few clues to the “hook” it was going to use and really only once gave any clear indication of what is supposed to be going on when the Warehouse was referred to as “America’s attic.” Were I a more discerning viewer, I’m not sure if I would watch this one.

But, since this one is in the vein of Eureka, and I’m in the mood for a new, quirky summer show, I’ll stick it out. This one will fit nicely beside all of my roommate’s Gordon Ramsay shows DVR’d from BBC America. I’ll admit that the basic premise intrigues me—having both historically significant items (such as Edison’s electric car prototype) and seemingly innocuous items (the wish-granting tea kettle, for instance) be such a pressing matter of national security that they must be hunted down by top-of-the-class Secret Service agents for cataloging and storage. I look forward to the different kinds of wackiness that ensues from misjudged items. It’s a basic kind of humor and mildly predictable (Houdini’s wallet disappears? No way!), but it’s fun.

There was a decent amount of chemistry between the two leads, even if Myka was a bit unsympathetic and Peter was a little stiff (but that’s a pilot for you; people fall into stride soon enough in most cases). The show alludes to some disaster in Denver where some bad mojo happened that made Myka choose her career over her lover’s life, but her being slightly unsympathetic makes me not particularly care about her “sacrifice.” I fully expect a cliché Mulder/Scully saga from these two, but I’ll be happy if I am proven wrong.

Artie was a very interesting character, though I wonder about him a little. He’s interesting because he’s so eclectic, abnormal, and socially awkward, but sci-fi TV already has one of those guys now: Walter Bishop from Fox’s Fringe. I hope that particular character archetype (the modern incarnation of the absent-minded professor) does not begin to wear thin as more and more series begin to incorporate it into their narratives.

All in all, I think Warehouse 13 has a lot of potential, and it’s definitely got a spot in my DVR. As with any pilot episode, there are a lot of things done wrong as well as a lot of things done right. It wasn’t the best show on TV, but it sure wasn’t the worst, either. It fell somewhere in the middle for me, but that’s okay. I prefer that, actually. That means I won’t be a victim of overhype and over-expectation, and I can enjoy (and eventually analyze) the show for what it is rather than what it was “supposed” to be. I can start from the beginning with a clean slate that is only influenced by my own thoughts rather than the explosion of media attention that comes along with new, explosively popular franchises like Battlestar Galactica. I like figuring things out, and I like doing that on my own. Warehouse 13 might have teased a little hard for the reward given in the pilot, but I’m certain that the series as a whole will not fail to disappoint the audience members who desire gradually unraveled mysteries. And maybe that SyFy unveiled its new moniker with a quality premier is a good omen.

Comments

  1. pasmith

    I'm going to forgive you for suggesting they dump Ghost Hunters. 🙂 We love that show (the original more than GHI) and I think it fits pretty well on the channel. Agree with you re: ECW though. I have no idea how wrestling fits into the sci-fi theme, no matter how broadly you interpret it.

    On to Warehouse 13 — We really enjoyed it, but we went in with very, very low expectations. I've enjoyed the dude that play Artie (Saul Rubinek, or something?) ever since seeing him as a rare item collector in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He definitely seems to be typecast as the eccentric expert at something.

    For a pilot, I thought the chemistry between the leads was pretty good, but their relationship seemed to develop *very* quickly from her having zero respect for him, to her accepting him and his hunches. But maybe that's a good thing. By the end of X-Files Scully just seemed kind of dumb in the way she refused to acknowledge weird things were happening.

    The back and forth between funny stuff and pretty dark stuff kept me off balance and I appreciated that. "You open it. I don't need another ferret or whatever…" cracked me up, and at the same time one death scene was fairly horrific (IMO at least).

    Having Tricia Helfer guest star in episode two will hopefully bring back geeks on the fence, and maybe 2 eps will be enough to get them to stay. We're staying.

    Oh, and according to IMDB, this is the first tv acting gig for the actor who plays Pete. He had a bit of a David Boreanaz vibe, I thought. Hopefully that's natural, because if he's faking it, it could get awkward.

  2. Beej

    GH does fit well on the channel; I'm just biased against it because I would much rather have a scripted series exploring those same things than a "reality" show. I can't get into the GH series, but it does indeed fit the "paranormal" theme that SyFy is going for. I just don't like the show.

    Yeah, the relationship did develop quickly, but I'm okay with that given that the show was never meant (as fas as I'm aware anyway) to be BSG or LOST deep regarding characterization. I'm sure they'll have their ups and downs which retread ground gained in the pilot as the series wears on.

    2-4 episodes is generally my "I'm staying" threshold, so I think you're right. Tricia Helfer being there will help, as will added exposition as to exactly what is going on. They've done a good job of setting it up, now if they can follow through with the mythos, I'll be completely sold.

  3. We Fly Spitfires

    The sci-fi channel in the UK (no idea if it's getting rebranded to SyFy) isn't great. They only seem to show re-runs of older shows. Sky One is the main cable channel here for US TV shows and they tend to get everything before everyone else.

  4. Phil

    Any reality TV show where they "see" "ghosts" is about the dumbest thing ever. The whole alure of a ghost is to experience it, at least that's what I've learned from Ghostbusters, Poltergeist, etc. I've seen more convincing acting on Real World than the "Ghost Hunters" pull off. The show is as close as it gets these days to snake oil salesmen…Sadly, I don't see them dropping ECW because (as I was notified while flipping through channels the other night) ECW was the most watched show on SyFy this week for like the 40th straight week.