La Brea thankfully opens with barely a minute of introduction before a massive sinkhole opens in downtown L.A., pulling cars, buildings, and a couple of dozen people into an unimaginably deep crater. While it is a relief to be yanked from the stilted dialog of a mother and her two children, that dialog is a broader sort of establishment than the series intends.
Eve Harris (Natalie Zea) is driving her two kids to school when the incident takes place, disappearing a couple of city blocks into the void. Eve and her son go down, but her daughter remains and is soon joined by her father, Gavin (Eoin Macken). As things unfold, we discover that everything that fell into the sinkhole landed somewhere and survived. The group has little idea what to do, finds themselves in a woodland populated by odd creatures, and isn’t even certain how to deal with each other, much less whatever they might find. Meanwhile, prehistoric birds have flown up from the sinkhole, and while the response generally has simply been one of disaster, this certainly puts an odd spin on things. Adding to the mix, Gavin has long had strange visions, and now he is having them of his wife and son, and the rest of the people who fell in the sinkhole.
The show is a certain brand of rollercoaster with action and implausibility driving audiences along, and to the extent that it is simply odd and fun to look at, there is a lot going for the show. The “visions” are perhaps a bridge too far for some, and rightfully so, but it adds a certain Lost flavor to the overall effort that gives some tether to the madness. Before we get to the end of the first episode it turns out that clearly our “Hole Dwellers” have been transported to the past, which makes the lifeline necessary to rescue them a new brand of impossibility. Still, as a ride, the show is an interesting enough thrill with strange creatures and bizarre twists of every variety.
The rollercoaster wants a story though and the script is completely comprised of “assignment writing,” that is mostly unbearable and often skirts the line of turning the whole affair into live-action cartoon. That initial minute of the series is the result of a checklist and it is a version of gracious description to make any suggestion that it progressed past that point. Bullet points come in – Mom and Dad are separated, daughter takes one side, son takes the other, mom is a helicopter parent, daughter has a disability – bullet points come out, and apart from putting things within quotation marks, there is very little movement from notes to script.
At a later point, when the destruction subsides and the people “below” begin to shake off the shock, a character noted somewhere in the drafts of the script as being a cop and “screwy antagonist who will be around to do stupid things periodically,” has a run-in with our mother and son duo. Son catches her hiding food when mom shows up to find out what the hullabaloo is (there is almost no question that it says “hullabaloo” in the script). The scene may as well be lifted verbatim from some 30s Western and, apart from not having a mustache to twirl, covers hokey character creation like a primer.
The series then struggles most with its own effort to be too many things, and to be much more serious about its own effort than it can possibly maintain with the dialog it’s putting out at this point. To make things far too simple, it’s like mixing X-Files with Land of the Lost (and Land of the Lost had people who acted more like people). It isn’t enough that people fall through temporal rifts, run from saber-toothed cats, or transfer objects from the past, but there are magic visions in play as well, and little holds anything together beyond simply running. It’s screwball and frankly a hell of an effort at it. It’s exciting and fun when left to itself. Bring on the destruction, freaky birds, and chases. But, it also wants to be serious, and has no idea how to do that and seems for all the world to be written by people who know no other people.
Dad, now that he is having visions he believes indicate that his wife and son, and the others who fell, are still alive has to butt heads with the FBI (or whoever) who are obviously just treating this as though everyone is dead. He talks to two agents who have sent a drone into the hole, only to lose it, and they might perhaps be described as “soap opera FBI agents,” but it is less clear that they can be described as “people.”
It’s hard to tell where such a show may be headed or how this nutball adventure may come together, but it has set the stage already that makes it clear that it doesn’t matter at all. In fact, it did it in that first minute. No one speaks like this, and these aren’t characters, just enjoy the ride. It’s less than Zea and Macken (likely the most recognizable people involved) deserve, because the show could have been more, and they could have delivered it. But, for those willing to just let Allan Quatermain roll in front of them, this is perhaps a hoot.