Warehouse 13, launching tonight, is the kind of show Syfy does well: light, goofy fun with characters who are recognizeable archetypes and situations that are a little bit spooky without being loss-of-bodily-functions terrifying. A fun go-kart ride, in other words.
Tonight's two-hour pilot for Warehouse 13 does a pretty good job of introducing its main characters, as well as the show's over-arching premise — although the pilot does suffer a bit from the malady that afflicts most pilots, especially two-hour ones. There are a number of draggy scenes where we learn the same piece of information two or three different ways, and there's a lot of slightly repetitive character-building. But it's mostly pretty entertaining and fun.
Warehouse 13, from Farscape's Rockne O'Bannon, is about the titular building, a giant warehouse in the middle of nowhere that houses all the unexplained items that the United States government has gathered over the years. It's a concept that doesn't need that much explanation, thanks to movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark: any object with paranomal abilities or strange properties winds up in a box, stacked in endless rows as far as the eye can see. And the warehouse's staff are tasked with going out and collecting more paranormal items as they show up on the warehouse's radar — for some reason, a lot of ancient and powerful toys wind up in the United States.
The show's version of Mulder and Scully are two Secret Service agents, Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering. He's the free-wheeling loose cannon who goes with his gut — and he literally feels "vibes," or intutitions, that let him know when something's wrong. He's carrying around a lot of angst from the one time he ignored his gut, and he's sworn never to ignore it again. Myka, meanwhile, is the uptight, prim, by-the-book hard-ass who clings to logic. At the start of the TV movie, she's running a presidential visit at the Smithsonian museum, and she insists on giving all the agents' stations color-coded names, like Magenta and Emerald. She has her own trauma, related to an operation that went wrong somehow in Denver — although she received a commendation for what she did, she still feels guilty about it.
And then there's Artie (Saul Rubinek), the actual warehouse-keeper, who's the requisite bumbling comic relief as well as the show's version of Yoda. Rounding out the cast is the mysterious Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder, somewhat underused) who shows up when she's needed an intimidates pusillanimous bureaucrats. Oh and Lena, the sexy, enigmatic innkeeper at the bed-and-breakfast where Artie puts Paul and Myka up.
I liked Warehouse 13 better than I expected to, to be honest. The concept seemed dreadfully rehashed, and at first blush, the characters seemed a bit canned. But the show has a nice playfulness that won me over, despite my reservations. The dialogue is fun without being especially witty, and the characters actually grow on you over the course of the first episode. The word I keep coming back to is "cute" — it's a cute show. Like, when Pete and Myka first visit the warehouse, they pick up a wishing lamp, and Pete accidentally makes a wish. But it turns out that if you make a wish that's impossible, the lamp gives you a ferret instead. So Pete and Myka get a pet ferret, which keeps turning up for the rest of the episode. There are little odd bits of character development — like, we learn that Myka's dad ran a bookstore called Bering & Sons, but she was his only child. He just called it "& Sons" because it sounded more impressive."
And after spending the first hour or so sniping at each other with occasionally genuinely amusing results, Pete and Myka settle down into a nice chemistry, not unlike Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting. (I have a feeling that the show's writers actually watched a few DVDs of Moonlighting when they were writing this show.) Artie is bouncy and amusing, as he lurches around the warehouse looking for clues to the identity of the latest mystery object, and occasionally gets into trouble as the dreadful objects in the warehouse run out of control.
Oh, and the nifty "steampunk" design of the warehouse bears mentioning — Artie's computer has manual typewriter keys, and there are valves and things all over. The warehouse was first built in 1898, so there are plenty of holdovers, including a huge library card catalog against one wall. Whoever designed the main sets did a bang-up job.
So the first half of the pilot is just introducing the concept — Pete and Myka save the president from an evil Aztec mask at that Smithsonian event, and as a result they're reassigned to this warehouse where their job is to track down more weird objects — and the second half is Pete and Myka's first mission. Myka is frantically trying to get reassigned back to Washington D.C., and Artie and Mrs. Frederic are racing to get her "hooked" on her new assignment before the bureaucratic wheels finish turning and she gets to return to her normal life.
So the first assignment our heroes go on is to a small college town where a student beat up his girlfriend — and he was chanting in Renaissance Italian, the universal language of evil. Pete and Myka have to travel there and find out what happened, and what mysterious object might be responsible. Along the way, they meet a sinister lawyer, a shifty classics professor and the student's evasive girlfriend, and the secret of the abusive boyfriend turns out to revolve around an object that has the potential to unleash a whole army of berzerkers, or something. Judging from this first episode, the show's storylines won't bear much examination, but there will be an object of the week, which is connected to some type of ancient lore and involves a curse, or a demon, or some other supernatural issue. It's sort of a combination mystery/procedural/adventure show, where our heroes go to a town and sort something out, while Artie takes off his glasses and puts them back on again, back at headquarters.
To sum up, the pilot of Warehouse 13 exceeded my admittedly low expectations by quite a bit. It's a fun romp, with characters who grow on you and seem to have just the merest hint of real human complexity behind their typical dramedy veneers, and Saul Rubinek is clearly going to shine as Artie. The artifact-of-the-week storylines promise to be reasonably fun. If you like Eureka, Sanctuary and the various Stargates, you'll probably like this show too. Warehouse 13 premieres tonight at 9 on Syfy.