WAREHOUSE 13 Review By Rachel N.

I had not heard much about this, but what little I did, I liked. A show about two government agents assigned out of the blue to a cross between area 51 and that warehouse in Indiana Jones? And then they have adventures and squabble with each other? Sounds like fun. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, actually. Even bad shows can be good if they’re fun or funny enough, intentionally or not.

warehouse13-08There are three ways a show like this can go:

§    It can have a purposefully silly (and surreal) premise, and have a lot of throw-away curiosities which will never be questioned or resolved. It adds color and can be fun. Anything, no matter how crazy or improbable can happen and probably will. (The Middleman, Doctor Who, Pushing Daisies).

§    It can take its premise mostly seriously, and have questions only lead to more questions.. Anything, no matter how improbable, can happen as long as it adds to the mystery. (Lost or the X-Files).

§    It can take its premise mostly seriously, and have a fairly clear-cut set of rules by which its fictional world and narrative will operate. Every mystery invented exists to be solved, most likely in a season finale. Unexpected things can happen, and the writers are usually making it up as they go along. Occasionally, there may few hints towards other mysteries here and there to give them things they can go back and build on, if need be, and create the illusion of continuity and foreshadowing.  (Supernatural, Stargate).   **EDITORS NOTE:  SUPERNATURAL does not really fit in this, because they’ve had their 5 year plan in stone from the start.  They knew exactly where they were going.  If you decide to go back and watch Season 1 episodes after having watched it all, you’ll go “wow, that was a smart set up that we had no clue of.”  So they aren’t making it up as they go along.**

Warehouse 13 chose to do…..really, none of the above. Or maybe a weak mix of all three.  It has a few moments of humor and whimsy. Especially in the beginning, I had hopes that it was going to be kind of an awesome mix  of adventure and tongue-in-cheek cheesiness. Given the set up, it seems like that’s the only route that would have worked. And in fact, those brief moments of humor and fancy were really the only ones that worked. It has far too many flaws to work as the type of show found in categories two and three. The first is that everything-  from premise to plot to character development- is entirely arbitrary.  When the resolution of something is that arbitrary, it’s usually termed an example of ‘deus ex machina’. When the entire show is that arbitrary, the only word for it is….contrived. When absolutely anything can happen for no reason in particular, anything that does will be attributed simply to the writers requiring that things turn out that way. It is a compete and utter failure of the illusion of depth. Consider the example of Doctor Who :

The silly/surreal premise is that there is a man who travels the universe having adventures and saving the world with beautiful young women in his time-traveling spaceship, which resembles  a police call box. This premise leads to questions such as: Why a time-and-space-traveling glorified phone booth?

The true answer, of course, is that it is – or was- a cheap and relatively simple prop that could be used as a plot generator. This is where the illusion of depth comes in, because that is not the answer that would pop into the mind of a viewer. A viewer would think of the in-story reasons the TARDIS looks like it does and why the Doctor spends so much of his time sight-seeing and saving the day. The show has enough internal narratological consistency that the viewers ignore the mechanics of  the storytelling.

Not so with Warehouse 13, where the illusion of depth fails entirely, if the writers ever gave it any effort at all. The answer to pretty much every question it engenders is, ‘Because,” or – if the show is feeling particularly inspired – “Because it’s mysterious.” The show wants to be seen as alluring and mysterious. One (mysterious!) character even remarks that the titular agency/building contains “endless wonders.” [NB: She says this in a monotone enough voice that makes me wonder if one of the writers has a very dry sense of humor and panache for self-deprecation]. In this it fails. Spectacularly. Even Night at the Museum 2, which was a terrible film, managed to create a world that was interesting. Who wouldn’t want to see the entire Smithsonian come to life? It’s an idea that catches the imagination, as should a secret warehouse full of mysterious! artifacts. Instead, it’s hard to care about anything in the show, including its supposed wonders.

The trick to mystery and wonder in these kind of shows is to be able to imply that their are answers (or at least, interesting implications) lurking just out of reach. This in turn requires an eye for detail and a subtle touch. There needs to be at least the appearance of subtle consistency, for without it, there is nothing to explore, as everything seems utterly arbitrary. Warehouse 13 is so utterly lacking in this eye for detail that not only are its random elements of steam punk  (et cetera) uninteresting and unnecessary, it cannot even remain consistent in regards to the larger plot details within its pilot episode. There’s a Chekhov’s Gun introduced in beginning of the episode which becomes important right on schedule in the third act. Yet it does not work at all as had been earlier (and quite firmly) established. Why? Because it was convenient. The writers needed a way to resolve the situation, and the previously established rules wouldn’t have worked. So they changed it. Without reason, comment, or justification.

This lack of attention for detail extended beyond contrived plot developments and into sloppy writing. One example would be when in the same scene that a character is praised (not ironically) for her preternatural attention for detail, she ends up walking up a huge pile of manure…without noticing.  I’d really like to believe that there’s a writer on the staff with a very dry and ironic sense of humor, but if there is,  it’s obvious that no one else working on the show caught the joke.  The universe the show has created is utterly nonsensical. It has all the logic of Looney Tunes, which would be fine if it were funny and played with the fourth wall like the cartoons so magnificently did. I suppose it’s technically possible that Warehouse 13 is a magnificent attempt at surrealist commentary on television, but I doubt it. It’s not clever enough.

I’d give this show a pass. It’s not good, but it’s not even interesting enough to be awful. It’s just….dull. One exception: If you are a huge fan of Eureka, you might be able to enjoy this show. Eureka has a few of the same flaws (mainly, the arbitrariness), but not to the same extremes. You may be more forgiving of them than I am.

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8 responses to “WAREHOUSE 13 Review By Rachel N.

  1. As a fan of Eureka and as someone who watched the pilot for Warehouse 13 with a critical eye, I can say that I absolutely disagree with Rachel’s assessment of this show. Despite all her expounding on the arbitrary nature of the show and in a show of tremendous irony, she doesn’t explain why she arbitrarily deemed the show itself as arbitrary.

    Sure, she gives a minor shrug at explaining why the show is arbitrary, but the definition of arbitrary itself involves something “capricious” or “unsupported”. And while I could understand Rachel’s assessment being both of those, I cannot understand the show being billed as such. Specifically, it seems as though Rachel missed the first hour of the show which was basically exposition about the entirety of the world of Warehouse 13. Now most people find exposition to be boring – and it can be if you let it – but the exposition (the most crucial part of the show) is handled deftly the majority of the time, and jam packs as many pieces of information into that first hour without giving it a bloated feeling.

    To answer specifically (lest I be like Rachel and avoid any semblance of substance) within the first hour we find out that:

    1) Pete Lattimer is a Secret Service agent who some sort of connection to the mystical world and that this connection gives him portents of bad things to come.

    2) Myka Bering is a distinguished Secret Service Agent whose actions during some operation in Seattle (?) lead to saving the life of the President, but Myka’s actions still weigh heavily on her conscience even though she attempts to ignore those feelings altogether.

    3) The Warehouse itself was established over 100 years ago and is meant to be a storing place for all of the artifacts that still need to be studied and are too dangerous to be out in the world.

    4) The character of Artie has been around the Warehouse for long enough to know all the in’s and out’s, and although he does enjoy his work he hates the fact that he’s subjecting Pete and Myka to working here after the last two agents assigned to him lost their lives to a Mayan Calender artifact.

    It’s important to note that this revelation comes at a time when both Lattimer and Bering are not taking Artie’s help on a case seriously. It is striking because the moment is played wonderfully by Saul Rubinek (Artie): he doesn’t just say “Hey guys, here’s the whole scoop on what a Mayan Calender does! Let me tell you about my horrid past!” Instead, we see a man shaken to his core even though these agents were lost two years ago. And that’s not petty illusion, that’s depth. People don’t just *tell* strangers about how close they were with the people they feel responsible for letting die.

    Talk about shallowness and lack of depth. In real life, I would be rolling my eyes in the most obscene fashion right now. There are more instances of the so-called “illusion of depth” that I could cite, but I want people to see this show for themselves without having to read through a complete summation of the show.

    I will say this: there were moments in the show that were cheesy (at one point, Artie ziplines through the warehouse to find a plot device and most of it is done against an incredibly bad looking green screen). But it was the kind of cheesy with which most Sci-Fi shows have to suffer when they don’t have enormous budgets (especially when you’re producing a two-hour pilot).

    At the end of the day, Warehouse 13 is a fun show with plenty of depth, the complete antithesis of arbitrary. Unless in Rachel’s mind, arbitrary means “well-founded with good character building and a good plot, leaving the viewer wanting more.”

  2. I pretty much agree with Rachel’s assessment, to be honest.

    Based on the pilot, this is going to be dull show which will make up the rules of the story as it goes along. Probably changing them mid-story when it feels the need.

    It’s stolen some interesting ideas from X-Files and Friday The 13th: The Series, with a touch of Special Unit 2 thrown in, but it left behind the spark that made those shows fan favourites.

    The exposition was dreadfully slow-moving and boring. But I held in there. Until the case-of-the-week showed up: a college student who hit his girlfriend for the first time and was arrested. And wise Artie explains that he’s picked this particular case, because it’s obviously indicative of something out of the ordinary. A break from pattern.

    Or some such rubbish.

    So, let’s see, these agents will travel the country looking into odd cases (like a teenage brat hitting his girlfriend for the first time ever) and the cause of it all will turn out to be… a mysterious object of some kind. Like, a wallet or a hair-clip or something else ordinary.

    Not only does that not make much sense, pitched at us in this form, but the writers didn’t even find an honest way to generate a story from that premise in the pilot. Artie picked out the kid (from 11 potential cases) from what exactly?

    Then there was the twist with regard to who was holding the cursed, um, I mean mysterious hairclip. It was obvious who the real culprit would turn out to be. But the script behaved as if this will be a Big Pay-Off.

    Also, in the climax, the show made it’s heroes immune to the effects of the clip for no discernable reason.

    I could go on.

    Made-up-as-it-went-along fuzzy logic…

    Disappointing.

  3. I saw this today. It’s in the long line of cheap-as-chips Sly Fry productions but it’s got a quirky Eureka vibe to it – which is good, after all Eureka is the channel’s highest rated drama

    Formulaic to be sure, but engaging too.

  4. I really wanted to like this show, but I tried watching the pilot and was pretty much bored out of my mind. Wow was it bad, even as sci-fi filler, which is something I’m always looking for. Changed the channel and did not care to look back.

  5. Ok, I’ll throw some responses out there, all in turn.

    I disagree with the Editor about Supernatural, of course. I only this year started watching the show, so I did the whole multi-season binge thing, and if you watch it all at once, you can see the seams. A lot of developments from say, mid season 3, don’t really fit with a few relevations made in season 4. But they’re better at hiding it than the X-Files ever was, and it’s still a fun show. Shows do not always have to be perfectly consistent and laid out to work. All they have to do is create the appearance of continuity and foreshadowing and underlying logic, something Supernatural is quite good at…and Warehouse 13 failed miserably with.

    Dreamscribe:
    Wow, you’ve put some thought into that, thanks. I disagree with you too, though. I tried to avoid going point-by-point through the examples of contrivance, because I did not want to come across as nitpicking or looking for fanwanking. I was more trying to say that the ubiquity of those problems from the small details to large plot points lead to the show completely failing to create the illusion of depth.

    I did in fact watch the entire thing, and was paying quite close attention during the first hour’s fairly clumsy efforts to shoehorn in as much exhibition and character ‘development’ as possible. (It’s the first episode, and it’s to be expected). The lack of depth and follow through did not really become a problem until about halfway through the episode. Up until that point, I’d been hoping that it might take a more middle-man like direction, so that inconsistencies and contrived developments were intentional and funny. but the show turned out to be a little more serious than that, and therein lies the problem. You cannot introduce a raygun, for example, that has the express effects of a)knocking someone out (for more than 10 seconds, apparently) and b)causing memory loss….and then have it randomly cause only the shortest of blackouts followed by no memory loss because it’s *convenient*. They didn’t even try to handwave it.

    You also mention the zip-lining scene. Think of it this way: What purpose did any of that serve? He knew what the painting looked like. Even if he wanted a closer look, why did he go to the trouble of dragging it all the way back to his office? The whole point was merely to show him running around (mysteriously!) then ziplining down to the object he sought! But what did it mean! dundundun, there’s that clip! And now, he’s dragging it back, oh, rush Artie, our leads our in trouble. There must be something important about that painting. But….no. He already had all the information he needed, information that was not terribly important to the plot, because the leads had already found the macguffin. All he did was tell them that it was an evil cursed comb that was actually not magic but technobabble, but worked just like magic and made no sense. [That was one of my pet peeves with the show. For the love of god, just call it magic. The X-files has shown viewers are happy enough to watch a show with both sci-fi and supernatural elements]. Anyway, as you can see, that whole scene really had no purpose other than to make it all seem more mysterious and insert some fairly useless exposition. They would have created more actual mystery by having them have no idea why the comb did what it did…or why the purple goo is so effective. (there would have been some potential for some *funny* exposition in the latter).

    And i could go into greater detail with even more examples, but as I said, I’m not interested in nitpicking plot details, I’m disappointed that there are so many plotholes and instances of violating in-episode continuity, along with very 2D world building and character development.

  6. Rachel N, the biggest problems with SUPERNATURAL may have been with how they presented revelations, but the mythology and where the show was going, and how it was getting there was all laid out 5 years ago. Unfortunately, they’ve cut some parts out due to fans, losses, and the strike. Some characters were supposed to be more important, but fan reaction had them eliminated for instance. So they had to come up with new ways to get from one point to another. They were able to do it without ever questioning the main characters choices.

    The loss of Kim Manners was huge as well. Kim imho is the only reason that The X-FILES was as good as it was. Carter isn’t exactly in demand is he? Manners on the other handwas in demand until his death.

    Any show that is written by more than 3 or 4 people over 80+ episodes is going to have issues no matter how strong their bible is.

    STARGATE had no idea where they were going, and is a perfect example of a SCI-FI show that never should have happened. The team behind the movie had a trilogy planned that was destroyed by the show. I liked the show’s first season on Showtime, but it definitely had a lack of vision. I just don’t think it’s fair to lump SUPERNATURAL a show with a definitive plan in with such a great example of a show that does make stuff up as it goes along.

    SUPERNATURAL has had to cut corners for reasons they couldn’t avoid in terms of story telling. However the basic story for the entire run of the series has not changed, and it’s still aiming for the same ending that was originally planned. Did they get there in the way originally planned? Mostly.

    So it is most definitely not a show that makes stuff up as it goes along or creates stories that they can build on later if need be.

  7. Aw, I loved stargate. Well, let’s say up until season 8 at least. I was not terribly fond of the original movie. I loved the show’s sense of fun, and the fact that it did not take itself too seriously.

    I think it’s possible for a show to have an idea of where it is going, but end up getting there in ways that it did not expect or having that idea change in significant, if subtle, ways. And, in my definition of this category, I did say that the writers could make it up as they go along, that they must necessarily do so to fit in that category.

    I’d argue that Stargate, like Supernatural, did build up its larger world over time, and with the usual exceptions, etc., the did pretty much stick to the…mechanics? parameters? they established as they went along. They also tended to resolve some big mystery or conflict once a season, and move on to some other big mystery or conflict. (In other words, they did not have mysteries wrapped in mysteries wrapped in mysteries like the x-files mytharc or LOST did for as much as I saw of it). I think it is equally possible for a show to work like this regardless of whether or not it was planned in advance or made up as they went along. I think they’re just two different approaches to crafting a story, and they both contain the potential to have strong continuity and a solid mytharc.

    In regards to Supernatural, I’ve heard that the ending of Season 3 was a consequence of the writer’s strike and that the solution to that problem actually struck the creator after the fact. Since that solution itself had a pretty large impact on the show’s larger mytharc, I think it’s fair enough to say that they’re making some stuff up as they go along- in comparison to the kind of (rare, rare, rare) shows/movies & book series that have every last detail planned out in advance.

  8. argh, it should be “not that they must necessarily do so to fit in the category”