TELEVISION: Warehouse 13 – Not Just a Collection of Antiques & Curios!

Remember the final shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the crated up Ark of the Covenant is placed on a pile of boxes and the camera pulls back and keeps pulling back to reveal a warehouse the size of Rhode Island? Well, Warehouse 13 [Syfy, Tuesdays,9/8C] could very possibly be that warehouse.

Pete & Myka 2

When two Secret Service Agents – Pete Lattimer [Eddie McClintock] and Myka Bering [Joanne Kelly] prevent a supernaturally influenced assassin from killing the President of the United States, they find themselves assigned to a very secret installation by the mysterious, and very determined Mrs. Frederic [CCH Pounder] – Warehouse 13 .

Of course, they have no idea that that’s their assignment. All they know is that they’re stuck in the middle of the Badlands of South Dakota in front of a rusted out barn of some kind – at least until fellow Secret Service Agent Artie Nielsen [Saul Rubinek] explains where they are and why they’re there. Unfortunately, Artie is not used to being around people and his explanation is filled with elusions and digressions, so while Pete is intrigued, Myka is definitely not.

Pete and Myka are polar opposites: he is very intuitive and, as Artie puts it, scattershot; she is the very definition of a modern Secret Service Agent – organized, efficient, observant and detail orientated. Which, as it turns out, is precisely why they were selected for the job. The problem is that Kelly (a) doesn’t believe Artie for a second and (b) she’s hounding her previous supervisor to get her the hell out of South Dakota. It doesn’t help matters that the assignment Artie selects for them seems like nothing more than a case of domestic abuse – but Artie’s instincts are razor-sharp, even if he isn’t.

Mrs. Frederic

McClintock’s [Bones, Desperate Housewives] Pete goes along with Artie because he gets a vibe that the case is a good one – and he’s really intrigued; Kelly’s [Diamonds, Vanished] Myka goes along only because her previous supervisor promised to get her back within forty-eight hours.

The two-hour premiere is chock-a-block with all manner of strange goodies: a tea kettle that grants wishes [or something surprising when the wish is impossible to fulfill]; a wallet – Houdini’s wallet, to be precise] that gets around really well for an inanimate object; a bed & breakfast where the owner knows way more than she should; a video communications device from the turn of the century, and so much more that just the bits of weirdness would be entertaining even without the deftly plotted origin stuff.

McClintock and Kelly have the kind of chemistry that creates sparks from friction – not romance [though that could happen – opposites have been known to attract, see: The X-Files]. Their characters’ polar opposite styles combine in such a way that one of them has something of a handle on proceedings at all times – even if they don’t realize it themselves. Both give performances that make us believe that.

Entering the Warehouse

Saul Rubinek [Nero Wolfe, Frasier]… what can you say about Saul Rubinek? He gives Artie unexpected depths – important because Artie is the comic relief, and when he gets serious, you have to believe it’s a matter of live and death. We buy into the nifty inventions and other artifacts that are housed in Warehouse 13 because Artie shows them off with such joy and/or terror. It’s Artie who explains their new job, “Hunt down whatever is threatening to ruin the world’s day and snag it, bag, and tag it.” Simple, no? [Rhetorical question…]

Director Jace Alexander [Burn Notice, Royal Pains] seems to gravitate toward the offbeat and here he does a lovely job of bringing the characters and situations of Warehouse 13 to life. As with his efforts on the Burn Notice and Royal Pains pilots, Alexander knows how keep the pacing appropriate to the material; he knows when punch things up with quick cuts or swipes, and when to slow enough to heighten suspense. Given that Warehouse 13 is being labelled a dramedy, he gets both tones to balance properly and makes transitions between them seamless.

Because the screener for the premiere was a rough cut, I can’t speak to the efficacy of the effects, but the story works really well. None of the laughs are unintentional; none of the dramatic beats are unearned. If Warehouse 13’s subsequent episodes are as good as the premiere, it will rank right up there with Burn Notice as my personal favorite [not best – that would be Nurse Jackie] summer series.

Final Grade: A-