La Brea is everything I hate in network television science fiction.
La Brea is NBC’s latest attempt at a family-friendly kinda edgy science fiction show, showing a family in distress, living in Los Angeles the day a super-massive sinkhole slurps down a dozen city blocks with the biggest sinkhole ever seen.
The best thing about this series is the sinkhole scene, as it happens. As usual a dog peeps the event out by about fifty seconds — plenty of time for most people to have gotten a nice jump on the giant crack opening in the street.
I was disappointed with La Brea‘s Los Angelenos because I would expect a giant crack in the ground to immediately resonate and thought I would see young and beautiful track stars leaping ahead of the slow parental units lumbering from their vehicles. Instead, they all just fell into the hole screaming all the way down. Cars, trucks, buildings, everything falls into this sinkhole.
Two of the family we start with are gobbled up and we don’t even miss them. We barely knew them. No attachment yet. Well, having seen no trailers for this series, I had no idea of what to expect. The last thing I thought I would see is NBC resurrecting Sid and Marty Krofft Land of the Lost. Don’t act like you don’t know what I am talking about.
Anyway, after this scene, the series quickly fades into science fiction obscurity for me. Here’s why…
IF YOU ARE INTENDING TO WATCH THIS AND HATE SPOILERS, RUN AWAY NOW. COME BACK WHEN YOU’RE DONE BEING ANNOYED.
Now, where was I?
WHY IS ANYONE ALIVE? Doctor Who’s time crack opens up under ground, swallows the ground around it, the cars above it, the buildings above that, some folk in the middle and yet, there are a statistically unlikely number of survivors.
I thought I was going to see mass carnage, bodies everywhere, wolves and prehistoric ravens feasting. Instead, they look like they’re on holiday in Ice Age La Brea.
Then it tops off this major insult with every television science fiction trope I can’t stand. These are not listed in any particular order, they just rang out as I was watching it and made me realized I had seen everyone of these behaviors in other science fiction network shows I have hated in the past. Like Lost. Or Terra Nova. Or Land of the Lost.
Coincidence. Not just coincidence but super-coincidence. People who know each other just happened to be in Los Angeles on that very day, at the very spot at the same time. Normally two people can’t even meet each other without a bunch of singing and dancing in that city.
Okay, you were bitten by a wolf. A large wolf. Why aren’t you dead?
Okay, maybe the wolf didn’t get a good grip on you, but he is swimming in pathogens from 10,000 BC. Why aren’t you dead?
Okay, so Mom did get some antibiotics from an emergency vehicle some miles away, dodging not one but TWO saber-toothed cats, having one friend shoot one, having the other knock the only doctor off a cliff, breaking his back but NOT dying on impact.
But can anyone explain to me, how they are moving a person who has a broken back without further injury? Okay, yes, you aren’t supposed to move someone with a back injury unless you are under threat of death. Saber tooth cat. Check.
Just when you thought that last saber tooth cat was going to get to eat, a coincidental pit trap catches the hungry feline, but not them. Super-coincidence saves the day, again.
A pair of dire wolves attacks your campsite. At least one person is killed. One other person is bitten and over-acts the entire time he is conscious. I mean even if he is hurting it seemed to be a lot of face-scrunching. What do normal people do after being attacked by a hungry predator?
Nothing. Apparently wolves of immense size don’t rouse any protective urges in the tender, meat-snacks trapped in the Ice Age Los Angeles. They don’t set watches, arm people, keep them inside of cars or build some MEANINGFUL kind of fortification.
Hell, there are enough scraps from buildings and cars there to arm everyone. What are they doing? Standing around talking to each other… about? Tar pits, repairing cars and videos on phones while pretending to be mute?
I don’t even want to talk about the Chosen One, former pilot, exposed to radiation event gets time spanning mental viewing powers in sync with the people behind the stolen Doctor Who time scar…
Last but not least: No Black American actors left in the United States? What about that stereotype of science fiction Black men? You know the one: Science fiction black men will always have a disability, affliction or madness which will make them ineligible for the mainstream hero of the series.
There are two Black men. One is gay. Nothing wrong with it. But I am noticing the Two-fer in play. He is Black and gay, so we get rid of any chance of a relationship with a Black woman, of which there are NONE of in the La Brea Ice Age period.
The other Black man is afflicted with probably cancer, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and generally useless, though the gun he carried to commit suicide appears to have forced him into a heroic role of shooting tigers and carrying doctors despite his affliction. Since this fellow has no reason to live, he probably won’t be having any meaningful relationships with women either.
This isn’t everything, this is everything that leaps out at me and makes me want to throw something at my television. These tropes are straight out of the eighties and we should be past most of them by now. La Brea mixes quite a bit of color but all the roles of agency still fall firmly in the hands of white actors.
Did I mention they have a rescue vehicle and a psychic pilot already connected to 10,000 BC on standby?
I can’t recommend this series, which comes out weekly, except as an exercise in what NOT to do when you write a television script. Unless you are trying to get picked up by NBC, then you better take notes, because they love this formula.
La Brea. Two episodes in and I am frustrated with it. I am always desperate for new science fiction. But I just can’t recommend this except as a cautionary tale. Maybe it gets better. But I doubt it. I would insert a list of actors, but I just can’t be bothered.
You can be tortured with this show weekly on NBC on Tuesdays with next day release on Hulu.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.