As someone who has been covering television for two decades, I’m always fascinated by shifts in the model. Of course, there have been many from HBO to DVRs to streaming services, but the question of how broadcast networks co-exist with companies like Netflix on the landscape has been the most pressing of the last few years. One of the more interesting recent developments has been shows that fail on one network only to spring to life on Netflix. “You” premiered on Lifetime in 2018 and almost no one cared until it started streaming on Netflix, bringing so many viewers back to the show that Netflix paid Lifetime to essentially adopt this thriller child and produce it themselves (a third season premieres next month). The story of “Manifest” is even more unusual in that it aired on NBC from 2018 to 2021, and anemic ratings went down faster than the plane on the show. NBC canceled it in June 2021, and then it landed on Netflix, where it became huge, leading the Peacock network to revive it for a fourth and final season. Which brings us to “La Brea,” a B-movie riff on the “Lost” formula that feels like it might need a Netflix push somewhere in its future.
Shows are often compared to “Lost,” but the obvious influences here are possibly more striking than ever—one of my kids even said at one point, “And there’s the Sawyer character.” As a fan of “Lost,” some of its mimics, and B-movies in general, I’ll admit that I found the premise of “La Brea” more intriguing than most of the 2021 broadcast network offerings. And while the pilot doesn’t have the immediate adrenalin rush of the first “Lost” (almost nothing on TV does), it does set up just enough to keep viewers engaged. This is one of those tough situations where a network sent only one episode for review, and the show is one that could really go in either direction. The concept is engaging enough that a writing team could unpack it and produce some fun, B-movie thrills, or they could get weighed down with the thin writing and cheap effects that feel like they constrain the pilot. Only time will tell.
“La Brea” is a show about time in a sense. It’s also a show about a giant sinkhole, the one that forms in the pilot’s opening scene (credit for not wasting any time with character set-ups before “getting to the good stuff”), dragging in people and cars. One of the people is Claire (Natalie Zea), whose daughter Izzy (Zyra Gorecki) remains in L.A. while her son Josh (Jack Martin) tumbles into the sinkhole with her. Surprisingly, Josh and Claire don’t wake up in a deep hole but in a vast field. Signs of life aren’t plentiful, until the wolves show up. Where are there? WHEN are they?
Meanwhile, Izzy gets in touch with her father Gavin (Eoin Macken), who seems to have some inexplicable connection to the people on the other side of the sinkhole. He has visions and knows things that the men in black don’t like him knowing. “La Brea” already has some suspicious G-men who seem to be hiding their knowledge about what’s happening in Los Angeles. The show is clearly going to divide its time between the survivors of the sinkhole collapse and everyone else on the surface that’s trying to figure out how to get them back.
Of course, the unexpected journey aspect of “La Brea” recalls “Lost,” and factions and divisions are already forming among the survivors. Sadly, the writing needed a punch-up. It’s nice to see “Justified” veteran Zea back, but none of the other characters really make much of an impact. “Lost” had a great high concept, but it was a hit because of its characters. The jury is still out as to whether or not that can happen here, but I have my doubts after a premiere in which no one really registers beyond Claire, and even her likability is impacted by my love for another show.
There’s also the sad news to report that “La Brea” doesn’t look very good. Now, the cheap effects could be improved by the budget that usually balloons from pilot to second episode, but “La Brea” needs to lean into its insane concept to work and I worry NBC won't give them the bottom line to do so. If you can't produce rich characters, go the other way and pull a page from the center of the world stuff in “Godzilla vs. Kong” and just go nuts. Will it? Maybe, but why do I think most people will get the answer to that question on Netflix?
First episode screened for review.