Although later than most midseason premieres, and more of a summer show in the end, FOX is premiering Drive on Sunday, April 15th with a two-hour event designed to mirror 24’s premiere structure. It moves into the 8pm Monday Prison Break timeslot the following night, and I think it’s a far more fitting comparison. In the end, ‘Drive’ is what Prison Break used to be: entertaining television that draws you in with a diverse cast of characters and a premise that keeps you guessing.
The show’s premise is deceptively simple, at its most basic level. 32 teams of two people participate in a cross-country road race from Key West, Florida to an undisclosed location designed in a form of checkpoints, with the winner receiving $32 Million. At each checkpoint, you get a message on a provided phone which sends you in a new direction. This is all of the detail we’re really provided with, as our main character Alex Tully misses the orientation session and the race’s version of Phil Keoghan (Who has a much more dire version of Philimination at the end of the 1st Hour) has already put away his PowerPoint and closed his satchel, robbing us of visual aids. The show, then, follows a rather impressive number of these teams on the race.
It’s a diverse group of characters, and it features enough diversity to promise some interesting things moving forward. For the purpose of organization, I’m going to separate them into distinct teams.
Alex Tully and Corinna Wiles
Alex (Nathan Fillion) is the star here, in the race to rescue his recently Kidnapped wife. Early on in the first episode, Corinna makes her first appearance, and through the two-hour Pilot you will get a sense as to her shady past. Her connection to the race, and to the team name I’ve selected, will be revealed in the show’s second hour. Their biggest challenge is someone connected to the race organizers who seems intent on a) running them off the road, and b) killing Corinna. That would be a problem, no?
It’s a team with only one official member, as Wendy is all on her lonesome. She gives birth in the episode’s opening act, and is in Key West with a Bjorn strapped to her just a week later. She is the only racer we see who has a run-in with the cops, thanks to some issues with her abusive husband, and she’s provided with the most diverse race experience thus far in the show’s second hour.
Winston and Sean Salazar
Ah yes, brothers from another mother. Winston is one of the first characters we are introduced to, and in time we learn his connection with his father who abandoned him and the new family he established. Their relationship is a little bit tense, but they share a common goal which develops late in the first episode. In the second, Sean finds another purpose: providing the required teen romance quotient for the series.
Team Desert Storm
Rob and Ellie Baird
Rob is an Iraq veteran who has returned home, and is in the race with his doting wife. While he appears preoccupied with having fun and staring at his wife’s ass, she has a lot more on his mind, and deletes a message on her husband’s phone in the show’s second hour. They are a team that seems fairly competitive, and yet doesn’t seem to be on the same page in terms of their commitment to each other, yet alone the race.
Leigh Barthouse, Susan Chamblee, and Ivy Chitty
They don’t have a clue where they’re going, it’s as simple as that. Their ability to figure out clues is their biggest downfall as a team, and we really don’t get to know anything else about them. FOX’s website has more characters details on each of the individuals (Including their income, their education, their occupation, etc.), and it provides a lot more detail than we see within the two-hour premiere. Still, there is tension; Ivy (Taryn Manning) doesn’t feel they’re competitive enough, and this creates
John and Violet Trimble
John is an Astrophysicist who is still dealing with some life-changing news, and entered the race by picking up his daughter from school and then driving across the country from California to Key West, Florida where the race begins. Violet is only 17, making her the youngest racer we see, and provides a romantic interest for the aforementioned Sean. Much like most daddy/daughter teams on The Amazing Race, I expect they’ll eventually fall back.
As you can see, there are plenty of archetypes here, but there are still standouts. Team Kidnapped is clearly the lead group, and both Lehman and Fillion do a great job of displaying a wide range of emotions within their roles. Similarly, Melanie Lynskey’s performance in the role of Wendy (Team Mother) is perfectly suited to the material, and it provides an emotional core to two hours that move by at fairly breakneck speed. I’ve known Alejandro as Justin’s deadbeat dad on Ugly Betty, and I like him here. These actors do a great job of working within this race framework, and the fact that any of them standout against the mayhem is an achievement.
Because, really, this is a show about driving. It’s a show about car chases, stunt work and the trials and tribulations of a road race. The episode never really stops going, even when the race has its checkpoints, and I think that it’s one of those things where we as viewers are meant to feel much like the characters involved. We’re along for the race just as they are, with no idea where we’re going or who are the organizers of the race. In the form of the race spokesperson, if you will, we get bits and pieces of information, but nothing substantial. Why did they kidnap Tully’s wife? Why did they pick each of these people to take part instead of someone else? We’re being dragged along for the ride, and asked to figure out what’s part of the game and what isn’t. One of the neatest things about the premiere is two characters who emerge from the background and are revealed to be part of the game organization. This uncertainty plays to the show’s advantage, because it forces us to question everything.
Tim Minear’s dramas have a history with FOX, and that history usually means running out their 13 episodes and then finishing. I’m hoping that this isn’t the case with Drive, because I want to be able to see the end of this race and I don’t know if 13 episodes is going to cut it. This could be a solid summer hit for FOX in the vein of Prison Break if they play their cards right. It contains high-impact action, a wide array of characters, an intriguing mystery that doesn’t involve one of the most annoying characters of all time (I’m looking at you, Veronica!), and on the whole a sense of polish that fits in with its partner on Monday nights in 24.
So, I implore you to check out Drive and see what you think. It airs Sunday at 8/9c on FOX for its two hour premiere, and then finds its normal slot where Prison Break once was on Monday Night at the same time. There isn’t a cliffhanger after the first two hours or anything, but I think there’s more than enough interesting material here to make me tune in on Monday. It is yet to be seen whether anyone else will feel the same way.