Comparisons are inevitable. La Brea will struggle with the burden of so many puzzle box mysteries that came before it. No one has managed to find the magical combination of mythos and characterization. NBC’s La Brea is the latest to try. La Brea Episode 1, which premiered tonight, has promise if it can separate itself from the pack. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but there does have to be enough meat on the caveman’s bones to warrant a bigger budget and additional time to dive into the rip in time.
One of the things it has going for it is a sense of wild abandon. The writers appear to be all in for the time-warping and prehistoric beasting. There is a bizarre, nasty natural disaster that sucks in a ragtag group of survivors, a haunted father on the outside, and a lot of ancient animals, and all of it is served up with winking eyes and a rush of high octane action.
When the La Brea tar pits fall into a massive sinkhole, it swallows up a significant part of Los Angeles. Family members Gavin, Eve, Josh, and Izzy, are separated. Gavin and Izzy are topside while Eve and Josh have fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole. Right away, Eve(Natalie Zea) and Dr. Sam Velez(John Seda) establish themselves as very capable survivors while Marybeth Hayes(Karina Logue) is channeling Sawyer or Freckles. Marybeth is a policeman but seems far more concerned with herself than serving and protecting.
Natalie Zea stands out as particularly winsome and fiesty while perenially solid John Seda does what he does best. He is a stoic hero that pulls from all his other work to deliver the too good to be true hero. Chiké Okonkwo(Banshee) and Rohan Mirchandaney may very well turn out to be the runaway fan favorites. Okonkwo’s Ty and Mirchandaney’s Scott have the most potential to surprise us, make us laugh, and eventually make us cry. Both are fish out of water and handling their situation in sympathetic and hilarious ways.
Topside Eve and Gavin’s daughter Izzy are together trying to figure out what has happened. He has had visions since a brain injury in the military years ago. Gavin sees the very large birds that come flying out of the hole shortly before they make their real appearance. For years he has self-medicated, thinking he was mentally ill. Now he knows he is uniquely tapped into the phenomenon. A plane crash near the other green seem our government knows about but is desperate to keep under wraps is probably the key to his visions and his family’s rescue. I have an early guess that he flew in and out of the rip and has been where Eve and the others are now. This is why he has visions of that place and is connected to them mentally now.
Effects aren’t great. It’s evident NBC was holding out on the budget until the series could prove itself. Hopefully, the proof of concept pilot shows enough to network executives to get a little more money thrown its way. La Brea Episode 1 is leaning into the Land That Time Forgot vibe. I’m not against it; rather, I like these types of shows if done right. Societal breakdown and the pressures of establishing a new normal to keep everyone safe make for compelling stories. There is a lot of emotional depth to plumb here.
High points are the incredible quick pace La Brea Episode 1 sets. It doesn’t waste any time establishing characters or relationships before it sends people falling. It is action-packed and just a little weird with prehistoric birds flying out of the sinkhole into LA and dirty-looking Dire Wolves hunting down our tarpit victims. Unfortunately, our lost group is in trouble between the birds, the wolves, and what appears to be a saber tooth tiger.
La Brea gives up a lot of its secrets early, which could be a detriment as fans of these types of shows like the puzzle aspect of the plot as much as the characters. If the characters are well developed, though, La Brea could survive on the narrative arcs. With only one episode in, we can’t know for sure which direction the show will take. For now, we do know, our sinkhole survivors fell through a green rip in time and aren’t in an alternative reality or some Hidden Earth scenario.
We also know the men and women in black are well aware of the rips and aren’t ready to share. With Gavin spilling his beans to them, I wonder how long before he is rounded up and experimented on? There are still some unknowns and enough drama to wring from the world-building below and conspiracy theorizing above to sustain an interesting season 1.
La Brea Episode 1 wants to remind you of its roots. Terra Nova was a seriously underappreciated series, and that gives me pause. Still, the mystery of this sinkhole into middle Earth might be the fresh angle La Brea needs to set itself apart. At one point, stoner Scott even says he feels like he’s in an episode of Lost. I get it. Every network has tried desperately to capture lightning in a bottle. Most get the ax before even a second season. Manifest caught Black Lightning when Netflix gave them a fourth full season after it premiered to record views on the streamer.
While I understand Gavin’s strange visions that come through in hazy snapshots and an impossible accident that should have killed everyone but left almost everyone alive begs comparison to Lost, La Brea Episode 1 felt a lot more like the strange love child of Terra Nova and Stargate. The former was widely underappreciated and got very few episodes, while the latter had multiple seasons across four different series, including a web series and several movies. Both are good stories. Let’s hope for La Brea’s sake; it takes after Stargate. Look for our ongoing La Brea coverage and watch for enormous bird poop.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.