I discovered on Stephen Frug's blog that Tim Minear's new TV venture Drive was cancelled after only four episodes. I watched the better part of the first three (I was cooking at a friend's house while it was on and may have missed a few details), and I wanted to share what I thought was wrong with it, beyond the Google Earth scene transitions (a complaint registered by Sara). What was right with it, by the way, was Nathan Fillion and that girl from Heavenly Creatures. Also right was that is was a show about something other than teens, doctors, lawyers, or cops.
Minear pitched his show about an illegal cross country race to Fox by saying "Drive will be to the Amazing Race what Lost is to Survivor." In interviews he joked about how his earlier shows got cancelled, and cited the titles as factors: "Wonderfalls" and "Firefly" aren't super clear about the content of the show and so he called his new show "Drive" as an analogue to the super clear LOST.
Minear's Wonderfalls and Firefly are great, and should not have been cancelled; you get the feeling that with Drive he has decided to try to cater more directly to the execs and a large a public as possible, try to stop being all "artsy" and get something on the air that will stay on the air. Lost is clearly his model.
And it is Lost that ultimately sinks Drive. Very different from Lost on the surface, Minear's Drive is reaching into the essence of Lost and trying to recreate it in another format. But it is too close to survive. Drive has a huge cast that have been thrown together and must figure out how to get along regardless of their very different backgrounds. Each episode can feature one particular character and his experience of the race -- in his interaction with his partner, we can learn his back story, what got him involved in the race and who he is. This slows down the frame sotry about the race, just as the flashbacks slow down the island narrative. Not everyone is who they seem. There are little side adventures off the beaten path to provide variation from the main story, like having to rob a bank. And most importantly, the whole thing is being manipulated by a shadowy group behind the scenes who love secrets and mind games and speak through soft spoken representatives.
As if this was not enough like Lost, the third episode brings it home in a thudding way. Nathan Fillion from Firefly is pulled over during the race by an aggressive cop who clearly hates him for apparently no reason, and smashes him in the head with a nightstick after putting him in the squad car. When he awakes he is in a police interrogation room with one of those two-way mirrors. As far as we know Fillion is a farmer from Nebraska whose wife has been kidnapped; he was dragged into the race by shadowy people who hint if he wins he will get her back. One character remarks that they must really want him in the race bad if they went to all this trouble -- who is Fillion really, we wonder. The cop insists he is the getaway driver from a robbery that went wrong, and says he is a murderer hiding from his past. Fillion insists over and over that that have the wrong guy. When he finally admits who he really is, the cop laughs and says "I wondered how long it would take you to realize who you really are." He smashes the window, and -- lo and behold -- they are NOT in a police station, but in a warehouse, and the cop is not a cop but part of the mysterious people who run the race; he gives Fillion a muscle car -- Fillion's "real car" and not the beaten up truck he has been driving. Fillion takes charge and heads to the front of the race.
The worst detail: the actor who plays the cop -- Buck from Kill Bill -- was, earlier this year, one of the Others from Lost, the guy who wants to kill Sawyer and who Juliette shoots. Could it be any clearer that Drive is Lost? Did you have to cast one of Lost's low level mysterious manipulators of our main characters as one of Drive's low level mysterious manipulators of our main characters?