Because there are so many actual great mysteries in life, it seems irresponsible and shortsighted of me to wonder why people watch network dramas. I mean, on some level, I get it. This level: You are tired from all the other really brilliant dramas available to you and, because you have a clock that has more hours on it than anyone else’s, time is not an issue. So, exhausted from thinking, from being challenged, from being absorbed in something ambitious, you say to yourself this sentence: “I think I’ll watch something predictable and boring with elements of comfort that harken back to that time several decades ago when television was irrelevant and I sought it out to provide me a mild amount of entertainment value while it simultaneously killed time dead.”
With very few exceptions — Jane the Virgin and such — this is the role network dramas play. Where network comedies can be smarter and funnier and creatively surprising, the dramas are mostly dull and predictable. Have I told you that predictable is a bad thing? Network dramas thrive on passive viewing. A person sits on a couch after a long day, turns on the remote and watches something that looks and “feels” remarkably similar to something from the past. There’s comfort in familiarity, in scenes that echo something you’ve witnessed before. You know the bad guys. You know the good guys. You know when two people will become a couple. You know how a scene will unfold before it unfolds. For certain people, this predictable viewing experience gives them comfort.
Unless those people are watching a network drama to get a break from all the truly amazing dramatic content out there — and let’s face it, sometimes you need a little mindless entertainment to let a challenged mind recover — I don’t want to know those people. There is a gulf between us. I do not want to build a bridge so that we can meet in the middle and I can find out who you are and what makes you tick. Go watch your shows. Godspeed.
Anyway, so I was thinking those thoughts while I watched Salvation, a new summer series on CBS. I will say this about CBS, because I’ve said it so many times before that it just comes to me, like a familiar speech: There is not a better-run broadcast network in the industry. CBS knows its audience. It knows what that audience wants and what it doesn’t want. Very rarely does CBS have a crisis of faith and veer away from its formula. And, for the most part, when that formula involves a procedural, CBS knows how to make them better than most others. This has been a long-running success story. Good for CBS. I like a well-oiled machine that prints money just like the next person.
OK, onward. Salvation is pretty stupid. Even for CBS, it screams “summertime diversion.” This is a show about an MIT grad student named Liam (Charlie Rowe) who has created a formula that can predict when a meteor will hit Earth.
So, just to be clear — this is a show about a meteor that is going to hit Earth — unless someone steps up and fixes the situation. That’s it. There is no more, really.
Liam is ahead of the government. “There’s a 97.2 percent probability that this is a planet killer.” At least “planet killer” is better than ye olde “extinction-level event” that gets tossed around on shows like this (oh, it’s there, but “planet killer” was mentioned first, so points for that). Liam’s discovery is ahead of even savvy tech billionaire Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera), who has clearly watched a lot of Iron Man movies (well, fine, the writers have). Once given the thumb-drive evidence that a meteor is going to hit earth IN SIX MONTHS, ROUGHLY, savvy tech billionaire Darius Tanz takes it to the Pentagon in the form of Important Government Guy Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale), who promises that the government is totally on it. They got this. (They don’t, but you knew that.) But savvy tech billionaire Darius Tanz is able to convince government press secretary Grace Barrows (Jennifer Finnigan) that if only he had access to inside information, he could make the tech tools necessary to stop the meteor and save the world. Darius went to MIT so he should probably know that press secretaries aren’t really the connected, insider types you need. Grace, despite sleeping with Important Government Guy, agrees to help — mostly because her daughter gives a sappy high-school graduation speech about getting off your ass and making change in the world. Because she’s only got six months to make change, Grace is totally on this.
There’s also a tiny news agency that snickers at The New York Times and The Washington Post for being blind to the obvious and its female reporter (Shazi Raja), who looks about 16 years old, is totally going to blow this story wide open.
Also, Liam is a nice MIT kid who meets a nice girl named Jillian (Jacqueline Byers), falls in love with her (elapsed time: under 24 hours) and now has even more reasons to save Earth.
Do you think he will? Do you think Grace will help? Will Important Government Guy get in the way? Will savvy tech billionaire Darius Tanz help or hinder? I don’t know. I wanted to peel my face off by the end of the pilot.
Salvation isn’t terrible. I’ve seen a lot of terrible. It’s just … familiar. And predictable. People make shows like this to make money. To hopefully have a hit. People act in shows like this for money. To hopefully have a hit. That’s their thing. It’s a choice — no need to judge that. Not everybody gets to make or be in The Handmaid’s Tale or Fargo.
Salvation is a summertime network drama that’s not asking anything of you but to give up an hour of your time and lose it forever. In return, you get a low-grade familiar sensation that means nothing but dulls your life a little bit. That’s your decision to make, not mine.
Cast: Jennifer Finnigan, Santiago Cabrera, Charlie Rowe, Jacqueline Byers, Rachel Drance, Shazi Raja, Ian Anthony Dale
Created by: Liz Kruger, Craig Shapiro and Matt Wheeler
Premieres: Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (CBS)