It’s an emotional day for the folks at SyFy. Today is the re branding and along with it the launch of the network’s summer linchpin for scripted programming, Warehouse 13. At this point, I think it is fair to say that Warehouse 13 has been wildly hyped – superglued to the re-branding hoopla, and therefore a reluctant barometer of its success. You can bet that if science fiction buffs reject Warehouse 13, the cynical sector of the entertainment punditry – ie, all of us – will be claiming the re-branding efforts were poorly received. In other words, there is a lot riding on Warehouse 13. Good news. It’s great.
There has been a trend in science fiction that – for lack of a better term – we will call SciFi noir. Morally ambiguous characters with deeply damaged souls servicing their human appetites amongst a fantasy backdrop that embodies elements of science fiction and mysticism. Usually, the ebb and flow of their grungy souls somehow fans the plot in one direction or another, but ultimately they emerge from their blind-date with the bizarre on the merits of some catharsis of their danker self. Warehouse 13 is not that show. Thankfully.
Warehouse 13 is, simply put, pulp sci-fi. It is a return to the Amazing Stories inspired genre of fantasy, with a setup that allows every episode to be a new experience instead of a return to the well of tease-and-deny that shows like LOST and Heroes rely on to keep viewers coming back. It’s a very brave move by show-runner Jack Kenny (The Book of Daniel) and company because it declares, boldly, that his show is about the entertainment value. There is a definite underlying thread of mythology that is very effective and interesting as well, but Warehouse 13 seems more inclined to bring you back on the strength of the adventures it offers rather than backstory.
The setup is relatively simple. Two secret service agents, the by-the-book and drop dead gorgeous Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly of “Vanished,” “Jeremiah”) and the very capable bad boy Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock “Bones,” “Desperate Housewives”) are brought together by an ultra secret arm of the government to Warehouse 13, the store-place for objects of paranormal capabilities. Warehouse 13‘s custodian is Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek “Nero Wolf,” “Frasier”), a fellow agent who serves both as the comic relief and the vital gateway into the mythology of Warehouse 13‘s contents. The objects themselves tend to have historical significance with names like “Houdini” being dropped left and right, and represent a wide range of abilities. Objects are neutralized by a mysterious goo and stored away from society. Myka and Pete will be in charge of retrieving stray objects, all under the direction of a mysterious and ageless overseer Mrs. Frederic.
The interplay between the characters is excellent, everybody is a pro here and they do their jobs well. There is a definite boyish wonder to Pete that makes his character instantly likable, while Myka’s toughness keeps the dynamic from drifting too far into trite sexual tension or story-book fantasy. Trust me, it may not be of the uber-dark franchise we have too much of, but it’s not exactly kids stuff either.
Will the new name succeed or not? Who knows. One thing is for sure, Warehouse 13 looks to be a winner – especially if your tired of programming that requires a PHD in philosophy to unlock. Warehouse 13 is everything that SciFi/Fantasy should be: suitably bizarre with a hint of a higher order, great characters, and enjoyable adventures. Try it.