FINISHING SCHOOL: Eureka – Season One

6In which I muse on a wide variety of DVDs from my absurd personal backlog as I complete them.

I think I wanted to try Eureka because it looked so damn pleasant, like a genre-tinged Northern Exposure. Although the scant reviews were hardly laudatory, I had a sense that it could be a sly and witty dramedy that others were writing off because of its light tone. I don’t seek out shows that allow me to turn my brain off (at risk of sounding up myself), but I still sometimes crave a show that’s just nice. And if it’s a genre show, then all the better. There’s also something enticing about discovering a show that critics are wrongly ignoring.

Despite some clunky episodes midway through that made me nearly give up on the show, Eureka ended up fitting that bill nicely. The premise is twee, but ultimately not a deal breaker. A US marshall (Colin Ferguson) stumbles on a secret town of geniuses in Oregon dedicated to scientific research. Ferguson then spends each week investigating a scientific mishap that puts individuals or the entire town at risk, while a mythology gradually brews in the mysterious Section 5 of research powerhouse Global Dynamics.

If that was all there was to the show, it would be pretty forgettable. The cock-up of the week is usually the least interesting part of an episode. Fortunately, the writers realise later in the season that using the calamities to get the characters bouncing off each other is far more entertaining than trying to get us to care about yet another stuff-up by a guest star at Global Dynamics.

The character interplay is the pleasant surprise of Eureka, because genre shows often fail at genuinely witty banter that doesn’t feel staged. Key to this is Colin Ferguson, who is immensely appealing as Sheriff Carter. He nails every aspect of the character, from loving but often-angry father to rebellious Zoe (Jordan Hinson) to average joe trying to keep up with the geniuses. He juggles a will-they-won’t they with Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s DoD agent Allison Blake with slapstick farce, often in the same episode. Ferguson has charisma to spare and is the best thing about Eureka, so it was a pleasure to hear he’s moving to the big leagues with a Bill Lawrence sitcom pilot for Fox this year.

See, Eureka has ended, with only the fifth season yet to air. I persisted with the show wanting it to become the sweet and snappy diversion I’d hoped for, but midway through season one I put that down to wishful thinking and put off watching the rest.

Then the final episodes focused more on the character dynamics rather than trying to get us to keep caring about random guest stars, and it blossomed into the show I’d hoped it could be. Even the mythology is kinda cool. It’s not in the same league as Pushing Daisies – perhaps the finest and sharpest TV bonbon of recent years – but I don’t feel stupid for watching Eureka anymore. I just hope later seasons keep up the good work, because I want to enjoy four more seasons of this not particularly nutritious but deliciously satisfying treat.

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