Drive! They Said…

Nathan Fillion & Kristen LehmanFans of Tim Minear's previous TV programs [including Angel and Wonderfalls] should find a great deal to like about his new series on FOX, Drive [premieres Sunday, 8/7C, then moves to Mondays, also 8/7C] – a fast-paced, slightly peculiar effort that combines the cross-country racing of The Cannonball Run with an ongoing mystery that rivals The X-Files, or Lost.

 

Alex Tully [Nathan Fillion] regains consciousness to find his wife gone. The police question him – it seems she packed up everything before she left – and shortly after they're done, he gets a phone call that propels him into an illegal cross-country race that has a purse of thirty-two million dollars. The implication is that if he wins, Katherine [Amy Acker] will be returned to him unharmed.

Although he follows his directions to the letter, Tully arrives too late for orientation and has to persuade Mr. Bright [Charles Martin Smith] to explain what, exactly, is going on. Soon after he sets out again, Tully finds himself being attacked by a guy in a muscle car, which leads to the discovery that he has a stowaway hiding in the bed of his half-ton.

She is Corinna Wiles [Kristin Lehman], and Bill [Brian Bloom], the guy in the muscle car, wants to kill her. Over the double-length premiere, Corinna's story slowly comes out – and she has at least as compelling a reason as Tully to be in the race.

Other participants include John Trimble [Dylan Baker], an astrophysicist who sees the race as one last chance to bond with his willful daughter, Violet [Emma Stone]; Wendy Patakas [Melanie Lynskey], who's on the run from her abusive husband and hoping that winning will reunite her with her newborn son, Sam; Rob and Ellie Laird [Riley smith and Mircea Munroe], who are in because they thought it would be fun; and a host of others…

The series was originally conceived by Ben Queen, whom the network paired up with Minear because of his experience. The result is a show that has a multi-layered presentation and features a terrific cast. The premiere delves into the mechanics of the race and introduces us to the featured participants. We learn that many of them signed on for the adventure [and the shot at thirty-two mil], but that others were coerced. Which is to say that the mysterious people/organization behind the race wanted them in so much that they resorted to extra-legal means to insure their participation.

Cast Shot

For a series that relies on forward motion at great speed, Drive does manage to get a lot of characterization in. Likewise, with each hour representing one major obstacle to be overcome on the way to the finish line, there is more than enough action to satisfy the most fervent action fan. Through the device of having a character whose job is to explain the race and set up each leg – in the person of Mr. Bright – Queen and Minear have found a way to keep exposition to a minimum [we have to keep Bright as mysterious as the unseen powers behind the race] and provide a personal link between the participants and the organizers. Otherwise, everything would be conducted, anonymously, over the special cell phones each team has been given.

To keep the racers on target, there are occasional encounters between them and agents of the organizers [as when Wendy is told she's part of an elimination round, and gets unexpected encouragement from someone other than Bright]. These encounters add to the mystery of the powers behind the race. Who are these people that the organizers go to so much trouble to keep them in the running? What do they bring to the race – and why?

The actual racing sequences are shot in a studio, with a lot of green scree work, a la Sin City – and, for the most part, the results are extremely good. New techniques were used in combination with more traditional ones to do things like cross shots that include the teams of two vehicles in the same shot. Somehow, it all works. The show looks amazing.

Even though Drive is serialized, don't let that stop you from giving it a shot. It may be the most entertainment mid-season replacement of the year. Maybe, with its pre-24 timeslot, it can succeed where other Minear-produced series have not. Personally, I hope it's a hit – it's more commercial than Minear's previous shows, but it hasn't lost any of the weird charm that is his trademark.

Grade: A

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