It’s a little bit Matrixy, a little bit Hellboyish, a little bit Buffy, a little bit Beauty and the Beast (the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton urban fantasy, that is). It’s got hot babes in leather hunting down monsters, and a guy-sidekick for them (the babes, that is, not the monsters) who’s like Sherlock Holmes meets Fox Mulder plus Monk and that dude from Psych all rolled into one. It’s loaded with cool gothic FX done in a revolutionary — for TV — green-sceen technique that allows for imaginative virtual sets.
Sanctuary, debuting tonight at 9pm on Sci Fi, sounds like it should be kinda cool. So I can’t believe how really boring the pilot is. I’m gonna give it a few more weeks, at least, to see if it grows into what sounds like a promising premise. But that promise is gonna have to be realized sooner rather than later for me to stick around beyond that.
The premise is: Dr. Helen Magnus — played by Stargate SG1’s Amanda Tapping, gone brunette and British — heads up the mysterious Sanctuary, and over the course of these 90 minutes (two hours when you add in commercials), which I had the chance to preview, she slowly introduces her strange world to Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), forensic psychiatrist. That sounds cool, but what it really means is that he wanders around crime scenes muttering things like “There’s a lot of fear in the air” while the cops mutter in return that “this is exactly the same kind of BS that got you bounced from the Bureau.” But Magnus sees something in him, and it’s probably a bit more than that he reminds her of Dr. Daniel Jackson.
So Will — and we — slowly discover that Magnus is prone to saying things like “there are things in this city, in this world, that no one wants to admit are real,” and that she, in the words of the villain in this episode, “protect[s] the innocent, stud[ies] the bizarre, the inexplicable.” And I do mean slowly: the measured reveal is meant, probably, to be atmospheric, but it feels sluggish more than anything else. There’s a lot of very on-the-nose dialogue about how she specializes in cryptozoology and xenobiology and how she has “a dual obligation: to study the miraculous and protect against the perilous.” People don’t talk like this. Still, Will is intrigued: will he take her up on her offer to join Sanctuary and hunt down monsters– I mean, abnormals, as Magnus prefers to call them? The suspense is so not killing me.
It’s nice to see a woman in charge and mysterious — and Tapping has the, well, balls to pull that off, if the show works on being more daring — and the virtual sets are indeed quite cool. And the other chick in leather at Magnus’s side? It’s her daughter, Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), a cute spunky blond, and there’s a certain undiscriminating segment of the forever-adolescent male audience this is mostly aimed at for whom that will be enough. You know who you are. Everyone else may agree with me, that this all feels like something left over from the early 90s, a syndicated SF/F action drama that fell through a timewarp to today. The production technology may be a step forward, but the pedestrian storytelling and rote characters are a step back. We’ve seen this all before. Sanctuary will have to be a lot bolder and more audacious than this to keep me coming back. Fortunately, there’s a hint of a suggestion that something more dramatic may be in the offing… which I won’t spoil. It’s up to you whether you want to invest a couple of hours on a chancy proposition.