Review: “Drive”

So we should have gotten this review up yesterday, maybe even Monday. But we figured Fox was taking the time to unveil their new hourlong all 24 style, with three episodes over Sunday and Monday. So why not grind out three episodes and go from there.

“Drive,” from executive producer Tim Minear (“Angel,” “Firefly,” “Buffy,” “The Inside,””Wonderfalls”), will probably join Minear’s long list of excellent shows cancelled from the Fox Network. This isn’t a knock on Minear or the show itself, but rather that Fox has never really had any idea how to market and find an audience for them.

Minear’s latest is like a cross between the superbly creepy Fincher flick The Game, B-movie classic Death Race 2000 and reality show “The Amazing Race.” A shadowy organization has been holding an illegal, high-stakes cross-country road race. Contestants team up and have to guess the location of the next checkpoint based on text message clues. There aren’t many rules for the ordinary, if not cliched, characters participating in the race. An abused mother, an astrophysics father and his daughter, three party girls, an Iraq veteran and his girlfriend, two half-brothers of Hispanic descent, and the star of the show Alex Tully, played by leading man Nathan Fillion. Tully is a Nebraska landscaper, but he has a criminal past.

At the end of the rainbow is $32 million. The shadowy organization has plants throughout the course, whether they be a diner waitress, a highway cop, etc. They use coersion and kidnapping to get some contestants to enter the race. You get the point, it seems like it’s a complicated setup, but really at the heart of the show is a little mystery, a lot of humor, some surprising character drama, and thrilling car chases.

” Drive” has the talent and acumen behind it, to not only acknowledge the cheese factor, but to embrace it and wink along at it with the audience. It seems everyone is in on the joke. For it is nothing if not satisfying popcorn entertainment. Engrossing to the very end, it’s a testament to the gigantic ensemble, especially Nathan Fillion (why he hasn’t been a huge star yet or had a break through role is beyond us), and the clever writing that convinces us to keep watching long after the cliches, stereotypes and cheese pile up along the roadside.

There’s enough intrigue to keep the series going, but we worry it will be cancelled long before its season one conclusion. The premise works well enough to carry over from season to season with a new cast and a new race. Only time will tell if Fox has the courage to stick with a show that struggled in the ratings out of the gate and allow it the chance to build an audience and to find that audience. For there is little doubt that shows this good need that patience and gentle push.

However, if, in all likely hood, “Drive” does find the sharp edge of the guillotine, we’re hoping Fillion will find a project worthy of his talents and charisma.

His portrayal of Alex Tully, ordinary landscaper determined to find his kidnapped wife, would keep us watching. As he pushes on through the first three episodes, with a singular pursuit, in his rusty and beatup pickup truck, we kept wishing he’d buy or steal a faster car. So by the end of episode three, when he’s given a souped up muscle car and Fillion switches gears from pathetic husband to misheavous criminal, blowing by the other contestants like a vindictive Tony Stewart, we gave over our doubts. We let our inner child get hooked and realized that television can be fun. It can be shallow entertainment with nothing more on its agenda then to tell the story of people swept into an cross-country illegal race.

Consider us along for the ride for as long as Fox allows.

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