You’ll like it if you already like: Quantico, The Blacklist, Scorpion, Designated Survivor…
Likely timeslot: Monday at 10, Tuesday at 10.
Remember last year when I entitled my review of MacGyver “And you thought Scorpion was stupid?“. This time it’s the opposite. The Doomsday Project shares a bit of DNA with both the CBS shows -it’s about preventing disasters from happening- but the stakes are higher than ever and all is done with an incredible sense of build-up and efficiency, with characters that you can only care about. Doomsday falls in the big-idea original drama concepts category that the broadcast networks were heavily pursuing this season but have been in short supply. ABC got the project in a three-network bidding by giving it a pilot production commitment that has a series penalty behind it. Meaning: there’s a big chance it gets ordered in may. It was compared to Designated Survivor in some articles, which is the only new ABC drama that looks like a hit this year, but they don’t have so many things in common. For starters, The Doomsday Project is a heavily-serialized procedural.
I’m in awe of the writers’ capacity to deliver so many informations and establishing so many characters in only a few pages. It reminded me of Quantico‘s pilot script in that way. It’s not an easy story to tell and easy concept to sell -the pitch is a bit of a headscratcher- and somehow they did it smoothly. It starts in the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that some of you may remember from the season 1 of The Walking Dead. The first disaster is about a deadly disease called Marburg that is stolen by four men in tailor made hazmat suits. We’ll discover later that they are planning to unleash it at the MET through the ventilating system during a private opera played for the biggest American Pharma companies. There’s a lot of action going on through the pilot, it’s always fast-paced, but the best part is happening in the last act with our characters being on the spot. It’s a great reward after watching them talking and arguing on and on in The Hub, a high-tech three level room with giant plasma screens everywhere, described as “a war-room from the future”. At some point, it makes you a little bit claustrophobic being there all the time, even when you’re not (claustrophobic).
I know what you may think right now: it sounds heavy and not funny at all. Well yes, it’s heavy -I mean, the whole world could collapse because of the disease- BUT it’s funny! You won’t laugh out loud like a crazy person, but you’ll appreciate the humor, skillfully exuded through the characters’ conversations. They all know each other very well, they have a common past, so they never hesitate to poke fun at each other and most of the time that’s how we learn more about every one of them. That’s a smart way to promise backstories, kept for later. Of course, they all have secrets. Some of them are already exposed. Others will have to wait. And as you can guess with this type of story, there’s a huge conspiracy behind. I’m always very cautious about that: it rarely works for the long haul. At least, this one sounds it could, if the writers are as brilliant as the characters and gave it a lot of thinking before jumping into the project.
What big concept shows lack of in general is strong characters. The Doomsday Project doesn’t have this problem. They’re all intriguing. Some are likable, others are not, but it’s okay. They don’t have to be as long as they’re interesting. And they are. And they really work as a group. ABC managed to assemble a solid cast with familiar faces. Kayla (Claire Holt) is the newest member of the Doomsday project. Considered the best cyber security analyst in the country, she’s efficient, irreverent, and not particularly interested in making friends. I love her already. And you’ll see, she even more important than expected. Faye (Rachelle Lefevre) is the whip-smart and shrewd Deputy Director of Homeland Security who is at the helm when the Doomsday team reassembled. Coldly pragmatic, she initially has little reverence for her assemblage of geniuses but during the course of the first mission, she develops a growing respect for the team. She’s an enigma. We have three very strong women at the center if you add Dr. Elle (Rochelle Aytes), a renowned physicist, MD and author, notable for her ability to popularize science, “making complex ideas disgestible for the masses”. It will help when things will get too complicated for us.
She was married once with the handsome and confident Dr. Davis (Taye Diggs), an engineer and architect, formerly the youngest-ever head of disaster prevention for FEMA. Fastidious, with expensive taste in clothes, he’s not fond of forays into the field. Warren (Jack Davenport) is a well-known intellectual playwright turned middle-brow action screenwriter. He is imaginative and creative and sees the world like a story which helps him think like (and even empathize with) the enemy. You remember his character in Smash? Same kind of asshole. Then there’s Nate Hensley (Dan Byrd), the younger one. He became rich as a professional analyst and is the founder of The New Oracle, a website that is devoted to predicting politics, sports and stock trading. He can hedge any bet and predict any outcome. Also, he’s gay. Finally, there’s Chris Wyatt, a Navy SEAL instructor. He’s the muscles of the team but also a brilliant mind: he’s specialized in military strategy. And yes, women and men are all very sexy in this show and there’s no reason to complain about it.
The Doomsday Project is one of the most ambitious project of this pilot season, but we all know high-concept shows are always those that burst into flames first. ABC needs to be careful here, especially since Quantico proved that their viewers may not be interested in this type of stories. How could they resist though? If the finished pilot is as solid as the script is, it has to be tried…