It’s good to be reminded, sometimes, how rare talent is and how hard art of all kinds is. Why we reward it, why we have always venerated it even though it doesn’t fill our bellies, give us warmth or provide shelter. Why we have been mesmerised by storytellers round the fire since time immemorial and remain glued to this day to the painters, sculptors, potters, calligraphers and anyone else who can produce something beautiful from nothing, out of some ineffable alchemy between mind and hand.
See too much of this cleverness uninterrupted and you begin to take it for granted. It loses the scarcity value it should always have and becomes commonplace instead of revered. That is why we should be glad a drama like La Brea (Channel 5) exists. This new miniseries launches with a fantastic, in every sense, premise: what if a giant sinkhole opened up in Los Angeles, a shedload of people fell through it, and down there was LA 10,000 years ago? And that’s it. That’s your lot for good things about this programme. After that it’s tremendously, gloriously, educationally bad.
To say the plot is by-the-numbers is to slander numbers. We open with two instantly annoying teens, Josh and Izzy Harris (played by Jack Martin and Zyra Gorecki) and their mom, Eve (Natalie Zea, looking roughly three months older than them). They are heading through the city talking about starting a new life after Dad went a bit doolally.
Dogs start barking – an unmistakable sign that some special effects are on the way. Sure enough – a sinkhole appears! The family run. They are getting away! But Josh stops to help a little girl who has fallen! The sinkhole gets him! Mom runs back! She falls in too! Izzy grabs on to her! The men in suits lick their pencils and start feverishly ticking off boxes. Mom tells Izzy to let her go, that she loves her and – as she tears herself from her daughter’s grasp: “Run!” Tick, tick, tickety-tick! Them pencils is going to be worn to nubs before the credits roll!
We cut to a man outside LA. He has a furrowed brow and pictures of Izzy, Josh and Eve on his phone. He is the dad: Gavin (Eoin Macken), a pilot who has been having visions of a strange, unidentifiable place since a plane crash three years ago. When he learns of the news he sets out to find his family. Alas, there is only Izzy and some fragments of script left. They dash to each other and it is fascinating. It turns out that it is possible to run unconvincingly. “They were right behind me!” she gasps, referring to the rest of the Harris family rather than a swathe of writers or coaches. “Then they were just gone! It was my fault!” God bless the solipsism of the teen who can stand in front of a fathomless sinkhole and make it all about her.
Then massive vulture-ish birds start flying out of the hole, which takes everyone’s mind off things for a bit. They look like Ray Harryhausen creations had Ray Harryhausen been no good.
Meanwhile, down in the sinkhole, people are acting just as badly with just as woeful a script. Eve has survived, along with one of everything else. Marybeth (Karina Logue) – a hostile cop with a secret sorrow! Ty (Chiké Okonkwo) – a sorrowful shrink with a secret disease! Sam (Jon Seda) – a Navy Seal turned doctor with a sorrowfully useless daughter! Christian sect sisters Lilly and Veronica (Chloe de los Santos and Lily Santiago) with secrets and sorrows up the wazoo! Australian stoner Scott (Rohan Mirchandaney) for light relief!
People run about trying to get phone signals and say remarkably obvious things such as: “Get in the bus! In case the wolves come back!”
Ah, yes. There are wolves. And later, sabre-toothed tigers, infected bites, runes, a hooded watcher and much, much less.
Back up top, baddie politicians with their own secrets to hide, possibly to do with a similar sinkhole that opened in the Mojave desert on the very day Gavin’s plane went down, are gathering. Izzy is still saying “I can’t believe they’re gone!” and I certainly hope she dies soon.
To be clear, it’s appalling. I loved it and am here for as many episodes as the makers are prepared to cobble together. I suspect it gets no better and that there is every chance it will get substantially worse. Here for it. La Brea!