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‘Threshold’ marks return of the sci fi action Scooby Gang


7 out of 10
(CBS, Fridays 9/8c p.m.)

Premise: Something’s out there and it thinks humanity is in need of an upgrade.

One thing really irks me about how CBS is marketing its new science fiction drama, Threshold. The network is following the recent trend of having an obviously science fictional show – but not describing it as “science fiction.”

The Sci Fi Channel is doing the same with Battlestar Galactica. Hello, aliens’ traveling through space trying to wipe out humanity is definitely science fiction.

Anyway back to Threshold, the latest offering by Brannan Braga, the executive producer, who along with Rick Berman, is credited by many fans with ruining the Star Trek franchise with the very weak Star Trek: Enterprise on UPN. Enterprise was mercifully cancelled after four years (the fourth year was only made to ensure enough episodes for syndication, and interestingly enough was better than the first three years combined).

In Threshold, Braga develops an idea created by Bragi F. Schut (who brought us Average Joe) and, at first glance, Threshold appears to me more grounded in feasible science than Trek. Unlike Star Trek, interstellar travel is not feasible. Aliens invade Earth (this is not a spoiler, it happens in the first few seconds of the pilot episode) by using interdimensional travel.

Still, according to the CBS web site, Threshold is not science fiction. It is a so-called “suspenseful drama.” Go figure.

Anyway, this program is light years better than Enterprise in that the plots are engaging and the characters are fully drawn. The show also uses a Joss Whedonesque ensemble cast peppered with quotable, witty dialogue, not the monotonous overbearing kitschfest that was Enterprise banter.

Threshold’s Scooby Gang is set in the present day and aims to thwart an alien attack bent on wiping out the human race. (Where’s Apollo and Starbuck when you need them?)

Here’s the catch: our Scooby Gang isn’t fighting against a government cover up… Oh no, they are the government cover up. (Can’t you just imagine Braga patting himself on the back for that one?)

The Cast

Heading up the gang is a strong woman, “Dr. Molly Ann Caffrey,” Played by Carla Gugino (Karen Sisco). Gugino handles her role well, and plays well the reluctant manager called in to head up a secret government project. Being the only female in the gang, she also has to serve the role of resident Brainy Babe and occasional Damsel in Nightie.

Her key to government resources is the character “J.T. Baylock,” a National Security Advisor played by the underused Charles S. Dutton. I guess you could call his role, The Bureaucrat.

Then there is The Hunk, the covert “ghost agent” operative U.S. agent. Known only by the “Agent Cavennaugh,” (not his real name, or so we are told) the part is played by Brian Van Holt (House of Wax). It doesn’t take Van Holt’s acting prowess long to throw off the hunk-label to prove he has the acting chops to play his part well.

Rounding out the gang is a trio of nerds, stereotypical sci fi archetypes:

  • “Dr. Nigel Fenway,” a former NASA microbiologist, portrayed by Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation) who is cast as the Know-it-All Doctor with the Bad Bedside Manner;
  • “Lucas Pegg,” a physicist portrayed by Rob Benedict (Birds of Prey, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who is cast as Amazing Neurotic Man; and,
  • The womanizing “Arthur Ramsey,” a mathematician and linguist played by Peter Dinklage (Elf) cast as The Man with the Disability No One Mentions.

Of the bunch, Dinklage and Benedict are standouts, rising above their bit parts and turning in some of the most memorable performances. They also should be thanking the writers for some pretty great dialogue. Next up would be Van Holt’s pigeon-hole busting performance and Spiner, who successfully tosses aside his image as Star Trek’s “Data.”

In all, the series, judging as well as one can by only seeing the first four episodes, is a solid piece of work and well worth checking out.

Some adult themes and violence.

Overall: 7 out of 10
V-Chip Rating: TV-14 LV
Genre: Science Fiction.
Sex: Little to None.
Violence: Blood, CGI gore, martial arts violence, firearms.
Special Effects: Heavy use of CGI with mixed results.
Eye Candy: Gugino and Van Holt fulfill the cute quotient, but something tells me more than a few Fan Girls will be starting web sites devoted to Mr. Benedict.

IMDB listing

Carla Gugino … Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey
Brian Van Holt … Cavennaugh
Charles S. Dutton … J.T. Baylock
Brent Spiner … Nigel Fenway
Rob Benedict … Lucas Pegg
Peter Dinklage … Arthur Ramsey

David Speakman

David Speakman has spent more than two decades as a writer/editor, photographer, graphic designer and manager of creative teams in broadcast, print and the Internet. His education is in journalism, graphic design, organizational communication and law.
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