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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough it’s always been really good at borrowing shows from other networks (NBC, BBC) The Sci-Fi Channel doesn’t really have the best track record when it comes to their original dramatic series. If you look back at the network’s history, there are more single-season wonders than you can shake a stick at, but there isn’t much in the way of shows with staying power, often because Sci-Fi will cancel a series before its really had the opportunity to build a following, as seen most recently with both “The Dresden Files” and “Painkiller Jane.” (We’re pretty sure this stems back to 1999, when they made the unfortunate decision to pick “First Wave” on a 66- episode contract and never really scored the ratings to have made it a worthwhile investment. Once you’ve had your ass bitten like that, you tend to keep it covered for the long haul.) Thankfully, however, they had the good sense to renew “Eureka,” a creative series that fulfills a lot of its potential in its first season and keeps the door open for many more seasons to come.
The premise of “Eureka” is a surprisingly simple one: there’s a secret town in the Northwest – probably in Oregon, but it’s never actually confirmed – that’s populated by the smartest people in America. Inspired by Albert Einstein and brought to fruition by President Truman, the town of Eureka came about in the wake of World War II, and since that time, almost every major scientific advance has occurred via the work of one or another of Eureka’s citizens. In the premiere episode, however, U.S. Marshall Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), stumbles upon the town while transporting a fugitive and, following the standard operating practice for all first episodes, ends up deciding to stick around. Jack’s a clever guy, but given the population of Eureka, he’s definitely out of his intellectual element more often than not. Still, his ability to look at things from a different perspective is often what gives him an advantage.
Actually, that last line sounded like something that would’ve been in the press release for the show. Sorry about that.
The truth of the matter is that “Eureka” doesn’t always take the obvious route when it comes to portraying the differences between Jack and the rest of the town’s residents. In fact, he’s made to look like a buffoon at least as often as he’s shown to have an obvious answer that everyone else has overlooked, which is probably why the show works as well as it does as often as it does. Of course, another reason for the success comes via the supporting cast, which consists of several highly dependable actors, both dramatic (Joe Morton) and comedic (Matt Frewer). Plus, when you’re dealing with a town full of geniuses who are inventing something new every time you turn around, you never run out of clever plots for future episodes, whether it’s a house that’s run by a sentient computer or a drug that gives its users super-speed. Beyond the sci-fi aspects of the show, however, the writers have taken obvious cues from series like “Twin Peaks” and “Northern Exposure” by populating Eureka with oddballs and eccentrics who prove that high intelligence often results in quirky behavior both inside and outside the laboratory. There are also romantic angles to the show, with Jack crushing hard on the town’s government liaison, Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), while she deals with her own crumbling marriage with Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn), head of the Eureka Advanced Research Facility. There’s a family dynamic as well, since Jack shares space with his rebellious teenage daughter, Zoe (Jordan Hinson).
Although almost all of the episodes of “Eureka” provide considerable enjoyment, it’s probably the last of the season, “Once in a Lifetime,” that packs the biggest emotional punch. It takes a plot thread that ran through several of the season’s episodes – a mysterious artifact housed within the bowels of the Facility – and mixes it with a visit into a possible future to produce an hour of television that provides both laughter and tears. “Eureka” regularly provides the former, but the latter is definitely never more successful than it is here. It’s a fantastic conclusion to Season One, and, indeed, leaves the viewer more than ready for a second season.
Special Features: After checking out the features on this set, one suspects that it was less that Sci-Fi loved the show as much they were caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of “Eureka’s” cast and crew. The actors and producers have contributed audio commentaries to most of the episodes, and we’re also provided with the opportunity to listen to the various podcasts that had been made available for download throughout the season. Included as well are deleted scenes, outtakes, the show’s “webisodes,” and the series of “Made in Eureka” mock infomercials that were made for Sci-Fi. All told, it’s a top-notch set for a top-notch series.