TV shows lost to history: ‘Drive’ (2007) doesn’t get up to speed before it’s canceled (TV review)

D

rive” (2007, Fox) feels like a “see what sticks” entry from Tim Minear, who co-creates the series with Ben Queen. It boasts good TV actors and movie character actors and one future superstar, and it has the high-concept premise of a secret multi-million-dollar illegal cross-country road race. That phrase could’ve been the centerpiece of a “Drive” drinking game, like “Dark Angel” had with “genetically engineered killing machine.”

I don’t know if Minear’s and Queen’s hearts are totally in this series – which lasted six episodes of probably a 13-episode story before being axed – and there’s the even bigger problem where the race’s specifics don’t seem plausible. A lack of verisimilitude hurt “24’s” quality around this time, but not its ratings, so Fox probably wasn’t worried about that part, but “Drive” wasn’t a hit. Four episodes aired as scheduled in April, then the last two (which I overlooked) were burned off in July.

Of the massive ensemble cast, “Firefly’s” Nathan Fillion is perhaps the top star, tapping into some of his Captain Mal charm as Alex Tully. Teaming up with “X-Files” guest star hottie Kristin Lehman as the mysterious Corrina, Tully is forced to participate in the race from Key West to the West Coast in order to recover his kidnapped wife (“Angel’s” Amy Acker).

Almost everyone in “Drive” is mysterious, but only because information is withheld from us. Almost every revelation is a cliché. Tully, for instance, was a bank robber before he settled into a respectable life.

There’s seemingly so much to hook a viewer – all these good actors, plus phones that text out clues to the location of each checkpoint, plus the mystery of why and how this race is happening. But through four episodes I didn’t care.

The combination of “What’s their story?” threads with good actors has some forward momentum, though. Melanie Lynskey, who I need to watch in more things, is the most magnetic actor as Wendy, a mother of a baby whose safety she is worried about it. In contrast to Tully, her loved one’s safety has her wanting to leave the race, rather than being forced to stay in it. (But she’s held at gunpoint by Taryn Manning’s Ivy.)

The biggest name – now – of the “Drive” cast is Emma Stone, who broke out later in 2007 in “Superbad.” She plays Violet, the daughter of Dylan Baker’s John, who has a month to live but hasn’t told her. Stone hasn’t yet grown into her movie-star looks (and I remember her deep voice being surprising at the time, but now I’m used to it), but Violet is the closest thing to an audience surrogate: a normal teen with a weird dad who soon sees the race as a fun game with a big prize.

That’s what it’s supposed to be for the viewer. But while “Drive’s” concept is high, its depth is shallow. Take for instance the Salazar brothers (no, not the ones from “24”) – Winston (Kevin Alejandro) and Sean (JD Pardo). Meeting as young adults after being kept apart by their off-screen corporate-magnate dad, they trade insults from opposite sides of the track but begrudgingly become good teammates. Their scenes soon become repetitive.

This is mirrored to lesser degrees in every subplot. There’s seemingly so much to hook a viewer – all these good actors, plus phones that text out clues to the location of each checkpoint, plus the mystery of why and how this race is happening. Not to mention reasonably good highway thrills that should pass muster with “Fast & Furious” fans even if “Drive” can’t surpass that saga’s action.

But despite the consistent technical competence, through four episodes I didn’t care. (I can’t recall if I passed on episodes 5-6 because I didn’t realize they were airing or if I canceled the show on my own.) I might’ve stuck with it if it was pre-billed as a limited series with the finish line coming at a certain point (“24” has that going for it). If Minear or Queen ever fill us in on where the show was headed, I’d be morbidly curious to find out all these years later – although I doubt they had anything so crazy up their sleeves as what the same-premised “Blood Drive” delivered a decade later.

I root for all “TV shows lost to history” to see the light of day. But relatively speaking, “Drive” is not one that’s worth losing sleep over.

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