There’s something shameless about NBC’s new sci-fi drama, “The Event.” Desperate to inherit the now-vacant, primetime TV throne of mind-screwry, the series owes pretty much everything to “Lost.” It’s all here: The layers of conspiracy, the secret society, the passenger airliner careening toward earth. The story is told from different perspectives, and the characters shift from clueless and cuddly to confused and harried to homicidal – influenced by some mysterious force. The greatest similarity to “Lost” is the narrative reliance on flashbacks, which serve to fill out details of the relationships and feed the audience small pieces of the puzzle. None of this is to say that the formula won’t work here, but whether they like it or not, the producers are going to face the comparison to the late ABC hit for a long time to come.
Our protagonist, maybe, is Sean Walker (played by the perpetually agape-mouthed Jason Ritter), a handsome guy with bad facial hair searching for his mysteriously vanished girlfriend. The two are vacationing on a cruise, and he’s waiting for the perfect moment to propose to her when things go haywire. Walker returns from a snorkeling excursion and she’s nowhere to be found! The computer shows no record of them ever even checking in! The guard needs to see him at the “security station!” Is reality not what it seems or is this a problem with Expedia? It’s unclear if we’re dealing with conspiracy or an alternate timeline, but “Lost” fans at least are familiar with the options.
Meanwhile Blair Underwood, cast as POTUS Elias Martinez, has decided, against strong urging from his subordinates, to release 97 secret detainees who have been under lock and key at a secret facility. We sense that these detainees may have secret power and possibly malevolent intentions, but because they don’t reveal red glowing eyes in the mirror when nobody’s looking, it’s impossible to tell for sure. Laura Innes, who plays éminence grise to this secret society, joins the president on his way to a press conference announcing both the existence of the detainees and their impending release, when the aforementioned airplane threatens to take them all out.
Which brings us to the other major influence on “The Event”: The post-9/11 jitters are everywhere. In fact, the metaphor is flagrant to the point of ham-handed. There are the detained, possibly dangerous folks striking fear in the hearts of the administration, and a new African-American president promising to uphold the values of our Constitution against a backdrop of hijackings, surveillance and paranoia. Unsurprisingly, the pilot episode doesn’t tell us much about the nature of the titular event presumably at the heart of the story, but it says quite a bit about the psychological effect of the actual 9/11. Will the series’ reliance on this cultural touchstone amount to a profound comment on the American zeitgeist or is it merely a bit of artistic laziness? For now, that may be the most central mystery behind “The Event.”