The 15 episodes of the first, and I wouldn't be surprised only, season
of "Surface" worked as involvingly as if it were a mini-series like
"Taken." The executive producers, Jonas and Josh Pate, never seemed to
be stalling or creating filler but had clear character and story lines
and trajectories set from the beginning.
The production values, including of the sea monsters, were very high for a weekly series, so that even if the series is not renewed viewing the DVD as a whole will be very entertaining. An important element in its success was the filming locations in North Carolina which provided more visual variety than we usually see in most series which are routinely filmed on either an L. A. back lot and environs or in the Vancouver area.
While there were tips of the hat to many other sci fi movies and shows of the past (Jay Ferguson's "Rich" certainly seems similarly obsessed as Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"; the daring duo's extreme adventures under the sea certainly seemed like a tribute to Jules Verne, let alone "The Abyss"; some sort of cryogenics facility seemed a lot like something we'd seen in "Coma;" their nemesis seemed to be borrowed from "The X Files," etc.) but it all came together freshly and with some unexpected twists.
Unusual for sci fi, the female roles were key and interesting. While I at first thought Lake Bell's "Dr. Laura Daughtery" was too young (not to mention impossibly gorgeous in a bathing suit) to be a marine biologist, over the first few episodes her threatened status as a newly minted PhD was dealt with spookily as part of the conspiracy to make her suspicious. Her scientific capabilities were always believable, even if her survival luck was amazing. I remained a little unclear about her personal time line of her life with her son, who she must have had when she was a teenager, and ex-husband (let alone the apparent ex-boyfriend "Jackson" who literally stuck out his neck for her). But her devotion to her son was a sweet recurring theme, even as she kept abandoning him to follow leads and escape henchmen.
Martha Plimpton had a delightful guest starring arc as a quirky, guilt-ridden scientist. And the teen age girls actually had brains and feelings. While the mom was clueless, so was the dad, amidst their extremely upper middle class lifestyle.
The relationships between the brainy females and their guys was always appealing, and their dialog sprightly. "Rich"s practical life skills as a fisherman and insurance agent, and brute physical force, were continually balancing "Laura"s scientific knowledge. I was very impressed that the series kept their relationship as a friendship with loyalty but no exaggerated sexual tension, as he is throughout a devoted family man to the wife and daughters he has had to leave behind on his quest, helping to make this appropriate family entertainment.
Teen Carter Jenkins' "Mile Barnett" was geekily adorable throughout, from his boyish loyalty to an unusual pet and his first crush on a girl who actually appreciates him, to his exploration, and finally embrace, of new found super powers. I particularly liked how the series helped him find his way through his volunteer work at the aquarium, which is shown as not just a commercial show but a serious scientific institution.
The story certainly capitalized on the world's recent experiences with natural disasters to believably surmise how people react, from prejudice to panic. A particularly effective episode incorporated MSNBC news and web coverage into the story line for a cynical commentary on old and new media.
Some of the travel times around the country seemed as unrealistic as in "Alias" as the central duo tracked down clues (and they seemed to get as much sleep as "Jack" in "24").
But the bringing together of the central characters and themes in the finale was convincing and exciting, even as it left open plenty of story lines for a network to capitalize on for a second season. NBC was smart to rerun episodes on the Sci Fi Channel and hopefully that could continue to build up interest in even short term renewal or mini-series conclusion.
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