24 June 2010

The Gates S1 E1 "Pilot"

Spoilers Ahead

This is truly a golden age for vampire fans. You can't go two minutes without stumbling over another book or movie or TV show. When I think of how many dry spells we've had to suffer through... but no more! The latest addition to the genre is ABC's The Gates, which premiered on Sunday. And you know what? It wasn't too shabby.

I can already tell this show is going to tax my poor note-taking hand (between it, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries, I'm going to end up with a cramping, twisted claw). There are multiple characters of multiple paranormal descents (plus humans) and all kinds of storylines already. And while it was originally described (not by me) as Buffy meets Desperate Housewives, as of this episode it reminds me more of The Vampire Diaries meets Wolf Lake, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"The Gates" is an idyllic (on the surface, anyway) suburban gated community that qualifies as a character in itself. As we learn through a bit of awkward exposition, the place was built by Frank Buckley (Brett Cullen, Lost)
who spared no expense to make it the most secure community ever. In fact, saying it's prison-like is probably not going too far (the place is covered with sensors and cameras, which the cops monitor from the police station). People move to The Gates to be safe, which is ironic as quite a number of them qualify as the things everyone else fears: werewolves, vampires, and witches.

The wolves seem to be in the greatest numbers. There's a sense that the pack runs things, although not every wolf belongs to the pack. And not everyone knows about the wolves, which seems to be how they like it (in fact, the fewer people that know the better). So far confirmed weres are: (high school football) Coach Ross, leader of the pack's teens Lukas Ford, and jealous boyfriend and lone wolf Brett Crezski (played by Colton Haynes, who's also in the upcoming Teen Wolf).

As far as we know there are only two witches in town: good witch and helpful herbalist Peg Mueller, and bitchy witch Devon (Chandra West, who appeared on Forever Knight and Kindred: The Embraced). Devon has a tendency to lure people into her spa and ply them with herbal potions they don't realize are potions. Peg has an ethical issue with that. Devon also isn't above threatening her fellow Gates residents--even the fanged ones. Characters like this always annoy me, but apparently someone out there enjoys them as they keep turning up in just about every show (bitchy for the sake of bitchy isn't the same as a nemesis).

And then there is the reason we watch shows like The Gates: the vampires. So far there are only two, Claire Radcliff (played by Rhona Mitra, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) and husband/sire Dylan Radcliff (Luke Mably, 28 Days Later). Luckily I like them both. Claire is especially charismatic, which is unexpected as one of the first things she does is kill a hapless contractor. But Claire is easy to relate to, particularly with her distaste for suburban life, and her struggle to control her vampire nature for the sake of her adopted daughter, Emily. The Gates is the only safe place for the Radcliffs and their daughter, and in order to stay in The Gates, one must conform. Killing people does not conform.

Lastly, there's the humans. Central are the Monohans: Nick (Frank Grillo, Prison Break) disgraced Chicago homicide detective and now Chief of Police in The Gates; wife Sarah (Marisol Nichols, 24) who just wants a normal life; son Charlie (Travis Caldwell, Parenthood) who immediately gets on the bad side of werewolf Brett by catching the interest of his girlfriend Andie; and daughter Dana (McKaley Miller), annoyingly precocious and source of awkward exposition. Other humans include the aforementioned Andie Bates (Skyler Samuels, The Stepfather), formerly of Seattle and love interest of both Brett and Charlie; and deputies Marcus (Justin Miles, The Crazies) and Leigh (Janina Gavankar, Dollhouse). At least, they're human as far as we know.

So the basic premise of the first episode is that Claire kills the contractor, and when her husband finds out they hatch an elaborate scheme to dump the body and make it look like the wolves did it. Meanwhile, the new Chief of Police, Nick, can't ignore his instincts (the same ones that apparently led to him killing an unarmed suspect back in Chicago). When he finds out about the missing contractor, and sees video footage of the guy crashing his truck into a pillar outside the Radcliffs' house, he starts investigating the vampires, both legally (questioning them, trying to obtain search warrants) and not so much (skulking around their house in the middle of the night). When it becomes clear that nobody wants him to pursue this (especially his wife) he decides to drop the case. But when he goes to identify a body and instead of the missing contractor finds the supposedly happily retired former Chief of Police, there's obviously not going to be any sort of quiet, normal life for Nick. And to complicate matters, Devon knows that Claire moved the contractor's truck into her garage [after killing him]. What other skeletons are buried in this place and how long until the entire house of cards comes crashing down?

I can't say the pilot was great but it was promising. Most of the characters and actors are decent, there's enough surprises to keep things interesting, the melodrama isn't too obnoxious, and there's plenty of eye candy to keep everyone happy. There's nothing earth shattering about the writing, cinematography, costumes, or setting (well, the Gates themselves are nice) but that can always come later. There are a few things that definitely need to change: Devon and Dana need to be toned down, and there needs to be more of Emily Radcliff--she's the reason her parents have to hide who they are; viewers should get a chance to actually care about the kid. The writers are also going to need to keep the vampire content fairly high; otherwise, it's just another show about another dissatisfied housewife and her uptight husband.

So, do we really need another vampire show? Probably not, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it while it lasts.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human, with fangs that descend or retract at will.

Strengths: Heightened sense of smell, hearing. Strength. Can easily jump from heights.

Weaknesses: The sun (need to cover skin completely with a special lotion in order not to burn), blood lust.

Mythology: Not much yet, although the Radcliffs need to assimilate into human society in order to stay safely in The Gates and protect their adopted daughter.

Sound Bites

Claire: (with welcome casserole) Hi. Please tell me you eat carbs.

Claire: (to Devon, in response to being threatened) I could end you, and you'd never see it coming.

Nick Monohan: Looks like a nice little town.

The Gates, Season 1 Episode 1 "Pilot." Written by Grant Scharbo and Richard Hatem. Directed by Terry McDonough. From ABC.

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