New TV thriller "Event" a test of viewer patience

Blair Underwood as President Elias Martinez in a scene from NBC's "The Event". REUTERS/NBC/Handout

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With the conclusion last season of “Lost,” “24” and “Heroes,” it would seem television is ripe for a new action serial. That could bode well for NBC’s “The Event,” which premieres Monday, particularly because its pilot asks a lot of viewers but gives back comparatively little in return.

Successful shows of this stripe walk a careful line, building suspense and mystery even as they reward viewers with answers and insight. “Event” teases viewers with an intricately plotted tale of conspiracy and terrorism, but it weaves the story from so many directions, perspectives and timelines that the episode becomes a sort of video Rubik’s Cube.

Comic-Con attendees aside, the effort required to follow the story by co-executive producer/writer/creator Nick Wauters goes well beyond what most viewers might be willing to give. With its large ensemble cast and frequent flashbacks -- visiting and revisiting events that occurred from 23 minutes to 13 months in the past -- watching “Event” is like riding a contraption that is half time machine and half bumper car.

The pilot only hints at the grand arc of what is to occur. This includes a macro story with global implications and a micro tale about a normal, unsuspecting nice guy (Jason Ritter) who plans to pop the question on a Caribbean cruise but instead stumbles into a world of sabotage and intrigue. Blair Underwood plays President Elias Martinez, who discovers that the CIA is operating a detention facility in Alaska that makes Guantanamo look like a Boy Scout camp. Against the counsel of advisers, he vows to close it down. Laura Innes plays Sophia, the leader of the detainees, and apparently the mastermind behind The Event.

Ritter is goodhearted Sean Walker, who plans to propose to Leila Buchanan (Sarah Roemer) after securing the blessing of her dad (Scott Patterson). Then strange and really bad things happen to Leila’s family, and Sean’s world gets more complicated than a dessert station at a midnight buffet.

As showrunner, Evan Katz, formerly of Fox’s “24,” knows a good deal about storytelling at breakneck speeds. In addition, executive producer Jeffrey Reiner, who directed the pilot, barely lets you catch your breath. However, unless they reward viewer trust with a few satisfying answers -- and soon -- “Event” will see a sharp decline in RSVPs.

So far, the most enjoyable part of this dizzy ride is the brilliant cast. Underwood and Ritter are entirely convincing in complicated roles. Equally impressive is the work of Innes as the tightly wound conspirator and Zeljko Ivanek as the president’s straight-talking aide. Cast and producers repeatedly have said that the second episode provides many answers. Maybe, then, instead of “The Event,” the pilot should be called “Eventually.”