With Jerry Bruckheimer producing, Danny Cannon directing and a cushy post-CSI Thursday timeslot, CBS’ Eleventh Hour seems like a predetermined hit. But does it deserve to be?
Based on a limited-run British series which starred Patrick Stewart and Ashley Jensen, Eleventh Hour has the misfortune of hitting the small screen a month after Fringe, forcing critics to split hairs emphasizing that while the FOX series purports to be about "science fiction," the CBS drama focuses on "science fact."
Rufus Sewell, justifiably tired with being type-cast as a big screen baddie, plays Jacob Hood, a government science adviser who gets called in to investigate crimes that baffle anybody with a lower IQ. And just about everybody has a lower IQ. Jacob Hood knows biology, physics, medicine and philosophy. He knows botany and chemistry. He’s so darned brilliant and observant that he makes Patrick Jane (Simon Baker’s uber-squinty Mentalist character) look like Larry the Cable Guy. But if movies and television shows have taught us anything, you can’t be in Mensa-level intellect and also have common sense or pay attention to general social niceties.
That’s why Jacob Hood is partnered with an FBI handler in Marley Shelton’s Rachel Young. Rachel is a bodyguard and a liaison, keeping Jacob safe and also keeping him from excessive interactions with ordinary people.
Because the British Eleventh Hour aired for only four installments, that show’s creative team was able to keep the show a very straight-forward two-hander. The main characters deal with a mystery-of-the-week — cloning, diseases, bizarre deaths, that sort of thing — and a revolving door group of local guest stars.
The American team has kept that structure, but having a 22-episode-per-season show without any kind of recurring supporting cast could be a problem. The absence of wacky sidekicks, stern authority figures or geeky lab-techs relieves the clutter at first, but may make the show’s universe increasingly claustrophobic as the season progresses.
The casting of the leads has also changed the dynamic between the scientist and his handler. With Jensen and the 60-something Stewart, the added muscle made sense and as dreamy as some people may find Stewart, romance was never really an issue. At 40, Sewell seems amply capable of protecting himself and television convention seems to mandate that his character now have a prickly and flirtatious relationship with Rachel.
Or at least they have a prickly and flirtatious relationship in the pilot.
CBS sent out two episodes to critics. The pilot, focusing on cloning, is tightly written, occasionally exciting and effectively sets up the dynamic between the main characters. The second episode, in which our heroes investigate a rash of suspicious deaths in a Georgia town, is convoluted, generic and lacks the scientific extremes to justify the presence of the Fabulous Jacob Hood. The second episode also has neither chemistry nor engaging rapport between Sewell and Shelton and would leave new viewers wondering why they’re partnered at all. Between the two episodes, Sewell’s performance goes from brooding and intense to needlessly glum and snobby (his American accent wavers in both episodes), while Shelton loses her sparkle of humor and is denied the opportunity to kick any butt.
The problem: The pilot is a total copy of the first episode of the British series, with certain shots and lines of dialogue recreated verbatim. The second episode is a CBS original and may be a better indication of what the series will be going forward.
An an executive producer, Bruckheimer’s name is on most of CBS’ procedural hits and even the hits that didn’t come through his factory line — NCIS or Criminal Minds or The Mentalist — indirectly follow the ripples of his success. Although it lacks the fleshed out ensembles of the various CSI incarnations or Without a Trace, Eleventh Hour probably does enough of the same easily repeatable and formulaic things to find traction on CBS’ schedule. There’s no grand mythology, no serialized elements, no conspiracy that will keep viewers scribbling notes and gabbing online.
If the first episode was any indication, this viewer might stick around to see how the character interactions advance, but if the second episode gives any clues, I may not watch for very long.