John Walker's Electronic House

Television: Drive – Fox

by on Apr.17, 2007, under Television

The first episode of Firefly ensured one thing: You were going to watch every other episode in the series, even if you had to kill close relatives. The first episode of Drive ensures, well, nothing.

Sharing a writer, Tim Minear was responsible for some of Firefly’s greatest episodes, with perhaps even a mature edge over Whedon’s wonderful dialogue. And so, sometimes a show gets measured from zero expectations upward, and other times from high expectations downward. It’s his own fault for having been so good. He’s not this time out.

It’s not bad, however. The idiotic concept is thus: there’s a secret, illegal road race across America, in which some participants take part willingly, while others are forced into the game to save kidnapped loved ones. They must solve clues and race to locations, desperately trying to not come last. So, er, a bit like The Amazing Race then, but pretend.

The Amazing Race is one of my naughty treats. 11 teams of two INARACEAROUNDTHEWORLD. It’s excellent nonsense television, as pairs of dimbos all fight at airports to get better flights, then shout at the confused locals in various countries, trying to find a clue box and then complete the appropriate challenge. As a Big Concept show, it’s fantastically executed, exec produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and overblown to match. It also features the best creator/producer name of all time: Bertram Van Munster. Yes, it’s reality TV (or “unscripted TV” as the Americans attempt to sell it), and yes it’s populated mostly by morons, but the sheer scale of the project (now in its 11th season) is just so immense that it gets away with it.

Drive’s not that immense. Poor old Drive. Death by comparison. Again, it’s not that bad. It’s just not good. You’re given a huge cast of thinly sketched characters and asked to care about them from the very start. But why? When someone comes last, and is therefore charged with killing another character, you don’t care about the consequences for her, and you certainly don’t care about her victim. There’s the father/daughter team with Minear’s attempt to write a Whedon teenager and missing really quite embarrassingly badly. There’s three girls who after starring in two episodes are still completely anonymous, but the show’s website informs us they were brought together by Hurricaine Katrina – eurgh. There’s, um, oh blimey, there has to be… No, I forget. And finally there’s Cap’n Mal, Nathon Fillion. He’s the only character there’s been any attempt to flesh out, his wife kidnapped and his participation in the race an unwilling one. But Minear’s choice to use former Firefly colleague might have been a bit of a mistake.

Fillion is perfect in Firefly. His cowboy behaviour, dubious morality and quick temper (and trigger finger) make him by far the most interesting captain of any spaceship. Smart, loyal, and a master thief, Fillion nails it. In Drive he’s given almost nothing to do but complain, and then presumably because Minear is confusing the unwitting victim and loyal husband with his former gunslinging character, he then suddenly displays the ability to kidnap and interrogate people. Er. Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that his wife’s predicament will drive him to do anything to save her. But instead you get this jumble of a character who is, so far, rather disturbingly unlikeable.

American TV has a rather bad relationship with filming driving. With cars normally hooked on the back of camera trucks, the actor has no reason to look at the road in front, and so in response, doesn’t. It’s so hard to concentrate on what’s being said, rather internally screaming, “LOOK AT THE ROAD! YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!” Programmes like Homicide have rather cleverly gotten around this by, well, having the actor be driving. And it’s madness that more shows aren’t doing this. Drive has created some rather fabulous CGI techniques that allow the camera to drift between cars on the same road, and fade seamlessly through windows. It looks awesome. It also means all the driving is shot on green screen, and so we’re in the worst territory of all for eyes-right driving fu. You’d think a programme about driving, y’know, called “Drive”, would work a bit harder to have the drivers act like they’re, what was it again, ah yes, driving.

So episode three is about now, and I think I’m going to watch it. But I’m not sure why. Perhaps loyalty to Minear, since I know he can write excellent dialogue, even if he hasn’t written a decent line in the first two episodes. I think he gets one more go.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Steve W

    Tim Minear’s problem has always been one of consistency. The Lois & Clark episodes he wrote were poor, the two X-Files average at best. The Inside and Wonderfalls were similarly hit-and-miss. His work on Firefly was of course outstanding, but despite writing some excellent episodes, I’m not sure he ever quite nailed Angel – too often attempting to ape Whedon’s style in lieu of something of his own (this was never more obvious than when he helmed an episode for the first time and promptly copied every trick in Whedon’s playbook – itself highly-imitative).

    I’d have to check to be sure, but I believe he was also responsible for the abominable season two finale of that show. I know you like that clutch of episodes, but you’re so very, very wrong.

    The showrunner needs to be the most consistent writer in the room. Minear isn’t. But given the right partner, he’ll shine. Fox doesn’t seem to have realised that yet.

  • Tom

    It reminds me of that The Room thing with Peter Krause, in that the concept itself is so profoundly silly that it’s as intriguing as it is vapid. I don’t believe in any of the characters, but I’m still kind of interested to see how the hell they move this absurd plot on any further without running into any of its inherent flaws. Sounds like they won’t have to keep it up for long.