La Brea Review – This sinkhole drama is brilliantly, brazenly bad. I love it

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Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how rare talent is and how difficult art of any kind is. Why we reward it, why we have always honored it even though it does not fill our bellies, give us warmth or provide shelter. Why we have been fascinated by fireside storytellers since time immemorial and remain glued to this day to painters, sculptors, potters, calligraphers and anyone else who can produce something beautiful from nothing, out of an ineffable alchemy between mind and hand.

See too much of this cleverness continuously and you begin to take it for granted. It loses the scarcity value it should always have and becomes common instead of revered. That’s why we should be happy that a drama like La Brea (Channel 5) exists. This new miniseries launches with a fantastic, in every way, premise: what if a giant sinkhole opened up in Los Angeles, a bunch of people fell through it, and down there was LA 10,000 years ago? And that’s it. There are too many good things about this program. After that, it’s hugely, brilliantly, educationally bad.

To say that the action is based on numbers is to slander numbers. We open with two immediately annoying teenagers, Josh and Izzy Harris (played by Jack Martin and Zyra Gorecki) and their mother, Eve (Natalie Zea, who looks about three months older than them). They are on their way through town and talk about starting a new life after dad went a little crazy.

Dogs start barking – an unmistakable sign that some special effects are on their way. Sure enough – a sinkhole appears! Family run. They escape! But Josh stops to help a little girl who has fallen! The sinkhole is taking him! Mom runs back! She falls in too! Izzy grabs her! The men in suits lick their pencils and start frantically ticking off boxes. Mom tells Izzy to let her go, that she loves her and – as she tears herself from her daughter’s grip: “Run! Tick, tick, ticket-tick! These pencils are going to be worn to bits 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’s the dad: Gavin (Eoin Macken), a pilot who’s 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, it’s just Izzy and some script fragments left. They rush to each other and it’s 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 any number of writers or coaches. “Then they were just gone! It was my fault!” God bless the solipsism of the teenager who can stand in front of a bottomless sinkhole and make it all about her.

Then massive vulture-like birds start flying out of the hole, taking everyone’s minds off a bit. They look like Ray Harryhausen creations had Ray Harryhausen not been good.

Meanwhile, down in the sinkhole, people are behaving just as badly with an equally woeful script. Eva has survived, along with one of everything else. Marybeth (Karina Logue) – a hostile police officer with a secret grief! Ty (Chiké Okonkwo) – a sad shrink with a secret illness! Sam (Jon Seda) – a Navy Seal turned doctor with a carefree useless daughter! Christian cult 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 are running around trying to get phone signals and saying remarkably obvious things like, “Get on the bus! In case the wolves come back!”

Oh yes. There are wolves. And later, saber-toothed tigers, infected bites, runes, a hooded guard, and much, much less.

At the top, nefarious politicians gather with their own secrets to hide, possibly with a similar sinkhole that opened up in the Mojave Desert on the day Gavin’s plane went down. Izzy is still saying “I can’t believe they’re gone!” and I certainly hope she dies soon.

To be clear, it’s terrible. I loved it and am here for as many episodes as the creators are prepared to cobble together. I suspect that it will not get better and that there is a good chance that it will get significantly worse. Here for it. Brea!

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