In the annals of cable-channel makeovers, Sci Fi’s recent decision to rebrand itself Syfy will go down as one of the stupidest and most thoroughly mocked. The likes of Spike (formerly TNN), Versus (formerly OLN) and Disney XD (formerly Toon Disney) seem like reasonable, descriptive designations compared to the nonsense word that NBC Universal has decided to apply to its previously science-fiction-focused channel. Syfy officially launches this week with the premiere of Warehouse 13 (Tuesdays, 9 p.m.), and the heavily promoted new show doesn’t indicate much of a shift in the channel’s focus. It’s a relatively unassuming, straightforward sci-fi show with a bit of quirky humor, very much in the vein of the channel’s popular Eureka.
- Warehouse 13
It also owes a lot to The X-Files, as many sci-fi shows of the last decade do, with a duo of male and female government agents charged with investigating supernatural phenomena. They’re not quite Mulder and Scully, though: Yes, the male agent, Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock), is initially more open-minded to the mystical, while the female agent, Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), is a skeptic, but the subjects of their investigations are so obviously paranormal that by the end of the first episode, it’s impossible for both of them not to believe. Lattimer and Bering work for the Secret Service, rather than the FBI, and Warehouse 13 plays up the idea that the government takes a vested interest in policing the otherworldly. Lattimer and Bering aren’t at odds with a shadowy conspiracy; they’re its agents.
Except that Warehouse 13 takes a much more lighthearted, optimistic approach to government cover-ups, again evoking Eureka. At least right now, there’s little of the darkness that defined The X-Files, although Bering does have a tragedy in her past that’s referenced a few times in the pilot. Still, the premise, which finds Lattimer and Bering mysteriously and suddenly transferred to the title location, a literal warehouse in the middle of South Dakota, promises more whimsy than angst, thanks largely to Saul Rubinek as Artie, the eccentric, avuncular agent who runs the warehouse (a vast repository for potentially dangerous mystical items) and gives Lattimer and Bering their assignments.
Creator Jack Kenny’s resume is filled mostly with sitcoms, and in Warehouse 13’s pilot many of the spooky elements are played for laughs. Like Eureka, it’s a show about the crazy possibilities of the unexplained as much as it is about their dangers. McClintock and Kelly match Rubinek’s goofy performance with fairly broad, light portrayals of their own; McClintock plays Lattimer as constantly in sarcasm mode, and Kelly makes Bering’s more straitlaced frustration into comedic impotence.
All of this adds up to make Warehouse 13 feel very inconsequential, not the kind of thing on which to hang an entire new network identity. The pilot’s main story, involving an ancient cursed comb, isn’t particularly engaging, and the grand mysteries of the warehouse itself (including what happened to Artie’s disappeared former colleagues) are sci-fi boilerplate. Like Eureka, Warehouse 13 comes off as more chintzy than epic, but, occasional exceptions aside, that’s always been the M.O. for Sci Fi’s original programming. Network executives can call the channel whatever they like, but until they come up with some more impressive shows, it’ll never break free of the lowest expectations of its former namesake genre.