Threshold (CBS)

This TV season is full or supernatural shows (trying to duplicate the amazing success of last year’s Lost. Of all the shows I am most intrigued about Threshold – a new project from Brannon Braga – the guy behind numerous Star Trek’s series. To be sure, I tuned in to watch Supernatural, Surface and Invasion, and while all of them are engaging and suspenseful shows, I put Threshold a few notches above – it has better talent and shows off more experienced writing team.

First off, Carla Gugino. She was the heart of a recent ABC show “Karen Cisco” (remember the role played by Jennifer Lopez in Out Of Sight). A great FBI caper, with interesting cases, intelligent criminals and a good cast, the show didn’t survive, but it proved that Gugino can move to small screen successfully. She’s back in a similar role – an ass kicker with a degree. An ass kicker under pressure.

Then there’s Brent Spiner. After years of playing the same emotionless character (Data from Star Trek:TNG), I think he’s finally got the gist of the role perfectly. He says little, emotes when necessary, and his words bite. Actually, he’s more like sedated Lore than Data. And I always liked Lore – especially when he had that alliance with the chrystalline entity… Nevermind that.

Then Peter Dinklage. You may know him from The Station Agent, Elf, Human Nature, Living in Oblivion, Surviving Eden. Intense eyes, quick with replies, and a great straight man. One minute he delivers the dramatic tone, the next – he’s a butt of a joke, and plays along impeccably.

Charles S. Dutton rounds up this cast as the big bad boss with a soft spot. He was in Random Hearts, A Time To Kill, Alien 3, Mimic, Cookie’s Fortune, and much more. The overall cast is supposed to be outsiders, but all skilled and quite capable of working under pressure. It works, and each actor fits within his niche.

The plot is simple – in the first episode an alien spaceship makes contact with a crew of a navy ship. It affects them. Quite bad. Some are dead within minutes, others – simply disappear of the ship. We’re obviously dealing with a superior intelligence that may be on its way to invade us. First order of business – to contain, study and understand the alien life. To find the mutants, to try to reverse the damage.

Dr. Molly Caffrey (Gugino) is a specialist on such matters, having written papers and planned “what-if” scenarios for extraordinary events like that. So, the government brings her in, and gives her the necessary resources. Find the team, train them, and go get the aliens. The team (Spiner, Dinklage, Rob Benedict) is reluctant, but plays along, being secretive, being in the dark, being in immense danger, and saving the world on daily basis. And just like any team, or covert organization, it should have a big bad boss (Dutton).

That’s it in a nutshell – a few well-rounded, balanced archetypes (the doctor, the book worm, the rebel, the soldier), and a seemingly endless list of projects – how do we find the survivors? What if they can pass on the mutation? What if they become stronger, more alien as a result? How can we contain this?

The episodes are intense, the solutions are smart and daring, and the threat is imminent but not quite deadly. The show manages to keep a balance between a possibility and science fiction. It brings in just enough Washington politics to make it plausible, and then shows us the laboratory where the team is developing a new weapon that can take down mutants (yes they do become stronger after coming in contact with the alien artifacts). You can tell that the show has borrowed heavily from sci-fi, but then trimmed the content down to make everything more believable.

I like it. And hope it stays around. As Alias becomes some twisted family spy drama, and Lost gets more convoluted with each episode, I like my supernatural shows to be a little more grounded, and still deliver thrills, just like in the good old X-Files days.

Tuesdays on CBS.

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