July 7, 2009 / 4:36 AM / 11 years ago

"Warehouse" a promising spin on odd-couple sci-fi

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - From “Project UFO” in the 1970s to “The X-Files” in the 1990s to Fox’s “Fringe” today, matching government agencies and mysterious objects/events of magical/alien origin has become a subgenre all to itself. That’s because it’s really screwball comedy: Opposites attract, cause sparks, repel and hopefully make ratings and audiences jump.

SyFy’s “Warehouse 13” is the newest entry in this specialty of sci-fi drama. Here, two Secret Service agents (ambitious, sugar-free Myka Bering and lantern-jawed, “vibe-feeling” Pete Lattimer) are transferred to South Dakota after saving the president from a glowing, bleeding Aztec headpiece. Once inside the titular building, they’re led by Dr. Artie Nielsen, a mildly bumbling but knowledgeable veteran, and presented with a space that recalls the parking spot for the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Nielsen calls it “America’s attic.”

A goofy setup, to be sure, but an entertaining and lively one: Wallets contact the dead, and ferrets are born from wishing kettles. The antique, earthy look of Nielsen’s office is all cyberpunk dynamics: His computer features typewriter keys, and his walkie-talkie resembles an oversized sardine can. Tesla, Edison and Houdini all get name-checked for their devices, a pleasant respite from yet more alien invasions or radioactive experiments. In “Warehouse’s” world, the wonderful machines are human-made yet still incomprehensible.

Lattimer and Bering are no Mulder and Scully, following a by-the-numbers hate/bonding ritual that’s one of the flatter parts of the pilot. But the presence of such top-notch character actors as Saul Rubinek (Nielsen) and CCH Pounder (Mrs. Frederic) more than make up for any initial lack of chemistry.

The show’s real speed bump is buried in Lattimer and Bering’s assignments: They’re sent out to capture interesting devices, defuse them and file them away. While that might be just governmental duty — label it, pack it up — it undercuts the “invitation to endless wonder” Frederic offered Lattimer early on. Who wants to run a library if you can’t read the books?

Perhaps that’s on the way. For now, “Warehouse” shows promise. Here’s hoping those bright shiny objects get dusted off and used or explored, and that just around the corner lies the real wonder in this series.

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