'Threshold' makes stylish, exciting debut
By Maureen Ryan
Tribune staff reporter
September 16, 2005
"Threshold" (8 p.m. Friday, CBS) is the most exciting new show of the fall TV season, one of the few programs deserving of an unambiguous thumbs up.
Which is why it's odd that CBS has decided to air it Friday nights, with the weightless "Ghost Whisperer," which premieres Sept. 23, as its lead-in.
Never mind. In its earliest (and best) years, "The X-Files" managed to garner a sizable following Friday nights, a loyal audience that was addicted to the Fox show's stylish thrills and intelligent plotting, not to mention its charismatic leads.
"Threshold," which is far from just another "Lost" imitator and recalls the best of "The X-Files," should be able to do the same.
First of all, anything involving Carla Gugino is bound to be good. Her cool intelligence, recently on display in the short-lived "Karen Sisco," balances out the alien-invasion elements of "Threshold," which are doled out in just the right increments.
Gugino plays Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey, a lonely think-tank analyst who lives with a mutt named Monster in a house full of unpacked boxes. Caffrey's all-consuming job is to come up with plans for what the government should do in various worst-case scenarios, and her "Thresh-old" blueprint -- the one that details what to do should aliens come calling -- is kicked into high gear when a very strange object shows up in Earth's airspace.
Within hours, J.T. Blaylock (Charles S. Dutton), the deputy national security director, has Caffrey briefing government and military officials on what to do next. And on her behalf, he assembles a rogue's gallery of science experts to help her investigate the last known place where the mysterious object was seen.
That's where "Threshold" goes from good to really good. Caffrey's team -- played by Brent Spiner ("Star Trek"), Rob Benedict ("Felicity") and Peter Dinklage ("The Station Agent") -- unwillingly accompanies the disaster specialist and a bunch of military guys to a ship in the middle of the North Atlantic, where very odd things have been happening and continue to happen once they arrive.
To give away what Caffrey and company find on the spooky ship would be mean (plus I've only seen most of the first hour of the two-hour "Threshold" premiere). So I'll just say that William Mapother, who did a stellar turn last season on "Lost" as a creepy guy named Ethan Rom, pops up here as a very creepy guy you do not want to mess with.
Though it has its share of well-paced scares, the real pleasure of "Threshold," is the chemistry of the ridiculously talented ensemble cast.
Spiner's character is a bitter ex-radical turned DNA expert who's not thrilled about being stuck in the middle of nowhere doing the government's dirty work. Benedict is a twitchy treat as a terminally nervous rocket scientist who alternates between wanting to greet the aliens and wanting to hide under a desk. Dinklage is wonderfully acerbic as a math and language expert with, as one character puts it, a sizable "gambling, booze and stripper problem."
Not only does the cast have chemistry to spare, the stylish "Threshold" doesn't take itself all that seriously, which can be deadly for a genre-tinged program. You have to like a show in which one character makes a snarky remark about Klingons to Spiner, who's best known for his turn in "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Sure, there are one or two clunky lines in the first hour, and one wonders how the central mystery of "Threshold" will play out, given that "The 4400," a somewhat similar USA Network show, had a difficult time sustaining its momentum into a second season.
But the intelligence of the cast and the writing bode well for the future of "Threshold," even if, on the show at any rate, the future of Earth is in doubt.
Is anyone planning to watch this? I have to agree with the writer that Friday night after the unimpressive looking "Ghost Whisperer" isn't such a great time for this show. I would have been happier with a Joan of Arcadia lead in to this. Nonetheless, I plan to catch the premiere, and I hope it is as good as it sounds and looks in commercials!