Warehouse 13 debuted last night as the flagship series of the newly-rebranded Syfy (different name, same Aztec Rex). Technically, therefore, this is not a doomed pilot. However, based on the two-hour pilot, it should have been.
As a staunch fan of The Middleman, I was prepared to embrace the kitsch factor inherent in a show whose premise is the lovechild of the early seasons of The X-Files and the last crane shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sadly, the show falls short even of SyFy’s usual “so bad it’s funny” bar. You’d think a show featuring the seductive and laser-emitting hair comb of Lucretia Borgia would be more enjoyable than this, you know?
The conceit: A vast, shadowy CGI warehouse in South Dakota is home to a collection of supernatural and magical ephemera and nicknamed “America’s Attic,” even though the relics we deal with in this episode are Aztec and Italian. A Shady Government Agent recruits our heroes from the Secret Service to gather supernatural relics in a syndicatable fashion.
Our protagonists: He’s Latimer (Eddie McLintock doing his best David Boreanaz impression), a man we meet at the end of a one-night stand. (Her: “Not fair! You know everything about me.” Him: “Well, you talk a lot.” Ladies and gentlemen, your hero!) He also gets Vibes. We know, because it’s mentioned six times in the pilot, and also helps them get around three plot holes.
She’s Bering (Joanne Kelley), a stickler with an eye for detail. We know she has an eye for detail because two people mention she has an eye for detail when they are talking directly to her. We know she’s a stickler because she gets angry when people don’t do their jobs (oh, those career ladies!) and because Latimer tells her, “Unbunch your panties.” Ladies and gentlemen, your hero!
They get introduced to Artie, an old-timer in the Warehouse business whose job is to be a cryptic and/or expository busybody as the plot requires, who shows them around Warehouse 13, the world’s most steampunkishly twee MacGuffin. He gets around in Edison’s first horseless carriage, powered by people-energy! He keeps in touch with them via television-in-a-tin-box Farnsworth devices (get it?), and equips them with a Tesla pistol (get it?) for self-defense. The pistol shocks the recipient and erases their short term memory, except when Latimer uses it on Bering, in which case it has no effect on memory. (Good job with the continuity, writers! I am sure you tried your hardest; two hours is an awfully long time.)
The plot revolves around the Lucretia Borgia comb, which gives middle-aged loveless women the power to make young men do their bidding. Or beat up their girlfriends. Or stand around in crowds and moan half-heartedly in Italian. (The comb does all three; you just pick one, I guess.) In another quality indicator, Latimer hears the history of the comb and immediately makes a cougar reference. Topical!
The script is a sack of anvils, the protagonists two-dimensional and almost hilariously pat (Latimer Always Listens to His Hunches, because one time when he was a kid he didn’t listen to a hunch and his dad died. His dad DIED, okay?!). The plot itself is so boring I didn’t remember how things actually developed (hint: not worth recapping) until I went back and watched it again. Then I got to re-watch the part where the comb convinces the local college president to immolate himself, which is basically what I felt like doing after watching the episode twice. Well done, SyFy.
So, SyFy, I wish you the best with your new brand! However, as a friend, let me suggest knocking Warehouse 13 off the calendar before you sprain something trying to make it decent. If you’re looking for a wacky sci-fi action comedy, call Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales; Warehouse 13 isn’t going to bring anyone else to your house party. (And if it does, I want to talk to every single one of those people. Seriously.)