Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Never Had a Chance: The Lost Room and Persons Unknown.

There are few things that grate on the TV geek's nerves more than a show with potential that gets really good, poses some interesting questions using elements we enjoy, and then tepid ratings and network mismanagement leads to no possibility of a second season. I've talked about one of the ultimate examples of this in our culture before, but I want to shine a spotlight on a couple of lesser-known shows with the same tragic fate. I'm glad that I got to see the one season that aired of both of these, and technically, they are both “miniseries”, but there was clearly more story to tell in sequels that will never come.

The Lost Room

When I saw this one a few years back, I marveled at how much they were able to pack into the miniseries 6-episode run. Originally aired on the Sci-Fi channel (Not SyFy, which airs professional wrestling and terrible original monster movies,) back in 2006. The plot is centered around Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause), who gets caught up in a world he never knew existed when his daughter disappears in connection with a series of murders he is working on. When I say “disappears,” I mean that she literally walks through a doorway into a room that wasn't there a second ago, it closes and when it is opened again, both the little girl (Elle Fanning) and the room itself are gone.

Detective Miller has only one lead on the mysterious event, a motel room key that was left in the door his child went through. He discovers that the key is one of a series of objects with unique powers that were originally the personal effects left in a motel room until an “incident” removed the room itself from time and space. The key is one of the more powerful objects, allowing it to be inserted into any pin and tumbler lock on any hinged door, and that door will open into the motel room itself. The holder of the key can enter the room and close the door, upon opening the door the holder of the key can exit the lost room through any door of his choosing with a lock and hinges, so long as he has a clear picture of the destination door. Anything (or as it turns out, person) left behind in the room after the holder of the key exits vanishes, as the room resets perfectly to the state it was in when the door opens.

Combination hideout, getaway and ultimate lockpick. I'd use it for ill.
Miller is swiftly accused of a crime he didn't commit, and enters a subculture concerning the objects and their powers. We meet people who hold other objects (including a bus ticket that teleports you to New Mexico, a pen that microwaves flesh and a comb that stops time,) information dealers who track them or sell the collected lore concerning them and how they work, and individuals and organizations that want to possess them. This supporting cast has some standout stars, including Kevin Pollack, Margaret Cho and Julianna Margulies who at turns aid or hinder Joe Miller's quest to do the impossible: to retrive something lost in the room. Within six episodes, the mythos behind the room, objects and the incident that created them is fully explored and to my tastes, adequately explained. I'd love to see more stories in the world, as though there is closure on the story, the possibility of a sequel was left open.

Persons Unknown

At least they didn't kidnap any fat or especially ugly people...
My wife and I just finished watching the 13-episode run of Persons Unknown, and we liked it a lot. It was plagued by exceptionally poor ratings, an episode that never aired, long breaks in the schedule and a timeslot move, so it really never had a chance. It feels like a cross between LOST and the Agatha Christie book And Then There Were None, with elements of the 1960s run of The Prisoner (a show I'm sure I'll profile someday) for good measure. Seven people are kidnapped from their lives, they never see their captors but they know they are being watched by cameras everywhere. They are held in a hotel in a deserted small town that appears to be trapped in the 1950s, and they all have secrets.

The plot moves at an unusual pace, exploring the characters, their struggle to escape and figure how what has happened to them as unseen people torment them with psychological manipulations while watching on cameras like some sort of twisted reality show. The few other inhabitants of the town either do not speak English (in the case of the men who run the chinese food restaurant, the only source of meals in the town,) or who claim to know little more than the victims do, like the hotel's Night Manager. The characters learn about each other, suspect and betray one another, and we see the outside world's reaction to their disappearance and bit by bit learn a little about the people who took them and why.

Oh, yeah. Can't leave the creepy-ass town. Hope you like chinese...

The initial characters in the hotel are:
  • Janet (Daisy Betts), a single mom who wants nothing more than to get back to her daughter.
  • Joe (Jason Wiles), a man with a mysterious past who is driven to get out and immediately takes charge.
  • Moira (Tina Holmes), a woman with medical knowledge and a background in counselling.
  • Graham (Chadwick Boseman), a US Marine Sergeant fresh from Iraq.
  • Charlie (Alan Ruck), a wealthy businessman with a wife suffering from cancer.
  • Tori (Kate Lang Johnson), a party girl and Ambassador's daughter who inists her father put her there.
  • Bill (Sean O'Brien), a selfish and opportunistic used car salesman.

As the season progresses, we learn that most of the characters are not what or who they claim to be or initially seem to be, and eventually one of the hotel's guests “checks out” and is replaced by a new 7th person. The last arrival is Erika, a female death row inmate played by Kandyse McClure (best known as Dualla on Battlestar Galactica) whose natural hard edges create additional tension in the town. We also follow a subplot with a journalist from San Francisco, where Janet was taken, investigating her kidnapping. We learn more and more about what is really going on and the group's attempts to escape and we get a little bit of closure on some of the series' questions, and then we get an open-ended final moment that some might call a cliffhanger.

It is a real shame that NBC dropped the ball at every step of the process with Persons Unknown. No matter what they did, people didn't turn out to watch it, at one point it was beaten in the ratings by gymnastics. The setup for a possible second series was really interesting to me, and I'd love to have seen where the characters would have gone from the final moment. In the US at least, the thirteen episodes of Persons Unknown can be watched on Netflix streaming as of the publication of this article.

Tomorrow will mark the 100th article posted by this blog, and I've got something I've been saving planned. See you then!
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The Angry Lurker said...

Never heard of them but the UK doesn't always get to see all the US stuff.

Alpha said...

I look forward to your 100th post.

Jessica Thompson said...

Nope, haven't heard of them either...

erics said...

sounds like a good series, which i'm lacking atm ever since nothing really good these days.

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