“Welcome to Haven”
July 9th, 2010
Haven was filmed about a half hour away from my current location in the suburbs of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and so there is a certain novelty to watching the premiere and seeing familiar locales. I worked for three summers driving around the province putting out traffic counters, and so I not only recognized Lunenburg (which doubles as Haven) but also the roads which they drive to get to the town, or the intersection where the main action seems to be located. As a result, Haven came to life for me in a way which kept me engaged – it’s too bad, though, that I’m not sure many other viewers could say the same.
The title of the pilot seems to imply that the series is coming from the perspective of the town, that there exists a fully-formed community which we are being welcomed into. However, the structure of the series is such that Haven is only what Emily Rose’s workaholic FBI Agent needs to see, and what the pilot is forced to establish to suggest that there exists a series about this town. While there are plenty of hints that there is something deeper afoot, and that this place holds a history which could hold meaning for our protagonist, there are no small moments which help define Haven and its residents, no local colour beyond archetypal newspaper men and supernaturally-motivated residents.
We are only shown what they have decided we should see – the result is a functional pilot which fails to excite me in any fashion than the sheer novelty of seeing familiar locations on my television screen, although that novelty and my appreciation for Rose will likely keep me watching for a while.
What made Warehouse 13 so successful as a series for SyFy was that it felt like the two FBI agents who were suddenly enlisted to the assignment were walking into a pre-established world: the Warehouse had history and a life of its own, which meant that the characters were overwhelmed by what they experienced. By comparison, Emily Rose’s Agent Audrey Parker sees only what she needs to see to convince her to stick around for a bit longer: the fellow lawman who can’t feel any pain but could certainly feel some chemistry with our leading lady; the local rebel who offers a bad boy alternative and a source of weekly shenanigans; the newspaper men who offer some friendly exposition in terms of her connection to a crime decades earlier; and, of course, the woman who comes from a family of people who can control the weather (and who, somehow, has never figured this out). While they dig through the town’s archives in order to find information about the past, there’s no sense that this town actually exists: we saw some buildings, and we met some characters, but there’s no sense of identity to be found here.
The pilot needed a scene of Agent Parker in a pub, sharing a pint with a local who regales her with stories of his time in the water or the supernatural events of years past. It seems cheap for her to stay only because of an eerie picture of someone who resembles her and an interest in the supernatural: why couldn’t she also stay because the town does feel a bit like a vacation? The show acts so sinister about it, with her boss stalking her and revealing that the plan all along was for her to end up in Haven on a regular basis, but is there any reason why she has to be so sullen about it? Yes, the show deals with murder and other serious issues, but life is not always serious, and this show needs to focus more on capturing life than on capturing the basic “mystery and crime” structure it’s going for.
Perhaps we’re supposed to see Eric Balfour’s character as the light-hearted part of the series, but forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical of this: as every review has pointed out, Eric Balfour has one character that he has played numerous times over, and so there’s no sense that we’re entering a unique community with the representative of local colour is Eric Balfour. If they had cast an unknown in the role, I actually think it could have been successful, but casting Balfour severely limits the function of the character. I actually think Balfour is fine in the role, and he has decent chemistry with the other leads, but the role could be something more if it wasn’t tied down by his past roles.
As a pilot, “Welcome to Haven” isn’t a failure: we get a glimpse at the kind of stories the show wants to tell (X-Files lite), we meet our central characters (dull, but with opportunities for growth), and we get a sense of the level of ambition which the writers have with the serialized storyline (not much, but it’s there). In that sense the pilot is perfectly functional, as it sets the foundation for what is going to come after it: unfortunately, that foundation is a basic cement slab, so any dreams of a finished basement went out the (non-existent, since there’s no basement) window, but I don’t expect every series to deliver on that level. Right now, the show features a setting I have a personal attachment to, an actress who I find interesting (Rose, who harbours much goodwill after her voice work in the Uncharted games), and a premise that separates the series from other procedurals (if not in the way I wish it would do so).
And while it’s not the greatest welcome I’ve ever experienced, at least the door wasn’t locked.
- The series is technically an international co-production, as Canada’s Showcase is airing the series as well (and it in fact debuted tonight, so personally speaking this review isn’t late at all!).
- The idea that the male lead doesn’t feel pain is actually sort of interesting, but the episode couldn’t come up with a more clever way to play with this than “he gets shot and doesn’t feel it” and “he can smell flowers,” so I’m skeptical it’s going to be a major elements in future stories.
- Lunenburg’s a really charming little town, by the way – beautiful waterfront, some nice little restaurants, and some friendly folk as well.