Mathieu Young/NBC
Jeff Jensen
September 28, 2010 AT 05:57 AM EDT

Once upon a time, Hollywood made you go to movie theaters to see TV shows like The Event. They were called “cliffhanger serials”—pulp fiction on celluloid, doled out weekly in short chapters that would always leave the hero dangling in “To Be Continued” peril. Universal Studios—the same entity that produces The Event—contributed much to the genre. Gritty Westerns like The Red Rider and Gordon of Ghost City. High-flying adventures like Tailspin Tommy and The Phantom of the Air. Far-out spy sagas like Secret Agent X-9 and The Great Alaskan Mystery. Spacey science fiction like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. THEORY! After last night’s episode of The Event, I am tickled—yes, tickled!—by the possibility that the show’s producers were brought to Universal’s vaults by an exec and told: “Make something out of this! Turn our library of cliffhangers into one of them serialized dramas that the Internet nerds like so much. Watch this oldy moldy stuff; let it inspire you. Feel free to ‘borrow’ all the ideas, characters, and stories you want. Have your way with it! Leverage our assets, damn it!”

Based on just two episodes of The Event, it seems to me that the show isn’t just a cliffhanger serial, but perfectly content with being just that, and only that. What we have here is a fast-paced, plot-driven sci-fi fantasy filled with twists and turns and “To Be Continued” climaxes, populated not so much with characters than with archetypes, played by likable, credible actors whose job, at present, is to be likably credible. So far, I’m enjoying the ride. My goofy pop culture-researching, theory-making brain is truly activated, as this recap will (painfully) prove.

And yet, I am fretting the future. The difference between a TV show and a cliffhanger serial is that TV shows can’t end after a dozen chapters. Does The Event have enough story fuel to keep chugging hot and fast for the long haul? Probably not. And that’s to be expected. But TV shows survive their runty episodes with rich, complex, entertaining personalities that we enjoy hanging out with, even when they’re stuck in a suck plot. I hope The Event knows this. Fleeting, sentimental flashbacks dropped into the stride of swift-moving story (think: the Sean/Leila college meet-cute in the pool, which was a very nice scene) are effectively endearing—but they’re not enough. So I hope to see The Event invest in its people in the weeks to come. In my recap of the pilot last week, I fleshed out some of the characters using info from their bios at the NBC website. Even more information has been posted since then–but this week, I’ll allow you the “fun” of doing the homework required by “transmedia storytelling.” In fairness, I will say the predicaments and the intrigue are impacting me in such a way that makes me even more interested in getting to know the show’s players–and perhaps that’s exactly the strategy. I can be patient. This shiny new TV plaything has not yet lost its novelty for me. [Full disclosure: Last week, NBC provided the media with screeners of last night’s episode, which I watched immediately, and next week’s episode, which I decided to not watch until after writing and posting this recap.]

NEXT: What a difference a percent makes.

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