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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
s someone who loves science fiction, it’s unfortunate that I’ve got an almost irrational resistance to programming on Syfy. It goes all the way back to their brutal treatment of “Farscape,” and while logic tells me that “Battlestar Galactica” should have made up for that misstep, I still find it hard to trust the network to this day. Or maybe it’s just that most of their programming sucks, and is aimed at the lowest common denominator.
Needless to say, I skipped “Warehouse 13” when it was on last year, and once I started watching this set I assumed I had made the right decision, as the first four or five episodes (out of 12) aren’t much to write home about. The warehouse in question is located in the hinterlands of South Dakota. It houses a seemingly infinite number of artifacts from history – artifacts that inexplicably contain strange and unique powers (you’ve seen it before at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the beginning of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”). For instance, Edgar Allen Poe’s quill makes whatever it writes happen, while Lewis Carroll’s mirror contains the spirit of an evil Alice.
There’s a schlubby caretaker named Artie Nielsen (the always great Saul Rubinek), who in the 90-minute pilot enlists the aid of two Secret Service agents, Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), both of whom are far too attractive for their professions. Their job is to trek across the U.S., hunt down artifacts, and bring them back to the warehouse – but not before getting in all manner of trouble first. There’s also the owner of Warehouse 13, the mysterious Mrs. Frederic (C.C.H. Pounder), who instills fear with her steely gaze, as well as Leena (Genelle Williams), a quiet, possibly psychic woman who runs the B & B where the Warehouse employees reside, which is one of the show’s stranger narrative moves. Why can’t they just get apartments, like normal people?
Right around the time I decided that this was essentially a series about chasing MacGuffins and little more, “Warehouse 13” started getting its act together, and turned into something better than I was giving it credit for. The stories became more interesting, the characters were growing (as well as growing on me), and the show introduced Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), a precocious teen from Artie’s past who joins the staff. Scagliotti is impossible to dislike, and through her it’s easier to appreciate what the series is trying to do, because her inquisitive nature allows the concept to unravel in ways that are considerably more audience friendly than what the three leads are capable of doing from a character standpoint. Halfway through the season, a villain is introduced in the form of James MacPherson (the superb Roger Rees), an ex-Warehouse agent who’s somehow pillaging Warehouse artifacts and using them for nefarious purposes, and by the time the season finale rolls around, all hell breaks loose.
In many ways, the show is just a riff on about five or six other sci-fi/fantasy/adventure concepts, and there’s nothing wrong with that provided that it finds new ways of exploring these ideas, which it starts doing in the second half of the season. It’s frequently reminiscent of a low-rent “Torchwood,” but it never really scales the same heights. Indeed, more often than not, when it tries to go for heavy drama, it falls flat. When it’s playing loose, fast and weird, however, it can be a great deal of fun. The CGI and green screen work is sometimes unbearably phony, which is perplexing. Shouldn’t that kind of stuff be honed to a fine art by this point? Maybe it’s just a matter of money, and perhaps not a whole lot was spent on the first season.
But now the show, as I understand it, is considered a hit for the network. Hopefully Syfy is spending more on the sophomore year, and now that the writers and producers have worked out some of the narrative kinks, the upcoming Season Two may just end up being some appointment summer sci-fi. “Warehouse 13” has the potential to be and do whatever its wants, and it could go to some daring places. Let’s hope somebody takes it to a few.Special Features: There are commentary tracks on four episodes featuring both crew and cast, including Rubinek, Kelly, Scagliotti and Pounder. Four featurettes each give some insight into various aspects of the show, but none of them run for more than about 10 minutes. Plenty of deleted scenes pepper the three-disc set as well as a dreaded gag reel. Finally, there’s a sneak peek for Season Two, which doesn’t give much away, but is a nice tease nevertheless.