Wednesday, 5 November 2008

SciFi’s new SciFi show pale but enjoyable

Developed from 8 webisodes, Amanda Tapping’s new show, Sanctuary, has just started on the sci-fi channel in the US. Both the webisodes, and the new series, are distinguished by being almost completely green-screened. While the webisodes were filmed almost as a stream of consciousness narrative with each episode blending into the next, the concept has been refined into the more familiar 42-minute television episode and has both lost and gained from the experience.

Sanctuary’s appeal is in its familiarity but in that familiarity is its greatest flaw. From its “big bad” cabal to its “freak of the week” standalones, quite simply, we’ve seen all the elements of this show before. In the secret organisation locked in their underground base investigating monsters (the truth, as they say, is out there). In the brilliant, logical female scientist, the emotional and intuitive male sidekick, the post-pubescent leather-clad woman warrior and the geeky, wise-cracking tech we have characters, once original, that are now clich├ęd. If its characterisation is Buffy meets the X Files meets every show these icons have inspired, its look is surreal comic book; the X Men meets Dark City. Nothing is there for us to point and say, this is Sanctuary.

Personally, I found the show pale but coherent. Amanda Tapping is as appealing as ever, although that accent is truly dreadful and Magnus somewhat one-dimensional. I can understand her wanting to throw off the shackles of the more emotional Samantha Carter but for us to warm to Magnus she needs some depth. Ms Tapping should just accept that she is the best crier on television and play to her strengths. In the other main roles, Robin Dunne's Will Zimmerman is at present a poor man’s Daniel Jackson with none of that character’s ethical heart, and Emilie Ullerup is merely going through the motions of the ass-kicking Ashley.

However, this is not to suggest that the show or its characters is unappealing. On the contrary, there is something compelling about the format despite the predictability of the scenario. If it can cast off the shackles of its progenitors and forge its own identity, “Torchwood Vancouver” as it has been dubbed by Television Without Pity will be worth tuning into each week, even if it’s never going to break any moulds.