This summer saw three new TV shows come along with mysterious plots, conspiracy theories, or characters trying to figure out confusing puzzles. These shows are presently filling the gap that ABC's Lost left after ending its six-year run. Lost received a dozen Emmy nominations for its swan season. People loved or hated it because it was unique and dared its viewers to stick with it through a very drawn-out enigma.
Persons Unknown premiered a couple of weeks after Lost ended and seemed the most likely candidate to fill its shoes. Again, it was about a group of people trapped in a place where they couldn't escape. It wasn't a tropical, south Pacific island. This time, it was a two street town surrounded by an invisible force field that will microwave anyone who tries to cross it.
It started off with a single mom named Janet Cooper, played by Australian actress Daisy Betts. One moment, she's playing with her little girl. The next moment, she wakes up in a locked hotel room. She discovers five other people who are also locked in hotel rooms in the same building. As they free themselves, they find the hotel is situated in this makeshift, ghost town that's only comprised of two streets and is covered from top to bottom with surveillance cameras.
We learn about each of the kidnapped persons, their histories and various troubles. Each has strong personalities that come into conflict with one another. Of course, some start to fall in love. The first five episodes were all about the persons trying to understand the environment and ultimately try to escape. Meanwhile, Janet's ex-husband Mark who used to work for a newspaper investigates her disappearance.
Eventually, we learn more about the organization that kidnapped these people. Why or for what purpose is still unknown, but the show, which was created by Christopher McQuarrie, the writer of The Usual Suspects, is filled with a lot of adrenaline and some interesting characters. The growing love affair between Janet and another kidnapped person, named Joe Tucker, played by Jason Wiles, becomes a central focus of the series.
Rubicon premiered in August and isn't like Lost in that it doesn't involve a group of people trapped in some place struggling to figure out and get out of a puzzle. The show is centered around a man named Will Travers, played by James Badge Dale (24 and The Pacific). Travers is part of a team that looks at intelligence. Travers basically finds patterns in things, which could be helpful to the FBI or CIA. Travers had a wife and child who were killed on 9/11 in one of the World Trade Center towers.
The mystery here kicks off when Travers' friend and boss is killed in a train accident, which Travers suspects wasn't an accident. As Travers uncovers more clues pointing to some kind of large conspiracy, creator and head writer Jason Horwitch reveals a shadow group not unlike the one in The X-Files. The question is if this shadow group killed Travers' boss and what did they kill him for? Does it have to do with politics, terrorism, homeland security or perhaps aliens?
Rubicon is a lot more subdued and not as intense as Persons Unknown and so far it's only been as creepy as having middle-aged men in suits lurking in the background. It hasn't yet given us a reason to be scared or on edge at all. Like its companion piece, Mad Men, the show is mostly quiet and dull. The makers of it merely expect us to follow it like bread crumbs, but instead of giving us bread crumbs, the makers should be giving us large, delicious chunks of meat as bait, not minuscle worms.
Though interesting, I fear Rubicon won't give us anything satisfying until the end of its first season. This would be fine if the show would attempt a little bit more excitement. The show so far seems so devoid of color in its cinematography and its writing. There's no humor, no heat, and no high-stakes.
All of this tests the waters for the new broadcast series The Event, which premieres in September. According to reports, the show will also include a government conspiracy, a kidnapping and an assassination attempt with elements that point toward science fiction. Early reviews compare it to ABC's FlashForward, which got cancelled for not catching on like executives would have hoped.
With it limited scope, Persons Unknown may have had the ability but certainly not the ambition to be the next Lost. It's a sinister version of The Truman Show. With its lack of energy, Rubicon will take years before it even comes close to having half of what Lost had. I hope that The Event does a better job of filling the emptiness that Lost fans like me crave because the art of mystery television is eroding away.
Persons Unknown Three Stars out of Five. Rated TV-14 Running Time: 1 hr. Airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Rubicon Two Stars out of Five. Rated TV-14 Running Time: 1 hr. Airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.