Let’s talk about Drive

Once again, the battle is on.
This is how it works.
Tim Minear executive produces a show for Fox. (think Firefly, Wonderfalls or The Inside)
Critics say mostly nice things about the show.
Fox cancels the show in <13 episodes.
Somehow, despite this, Minear keeps going back, and Fox keeps paying him. Drive is the latest entry into the Dark Tower cycle of destruction.
And of course I like it. A lot.
Now, I have to first point out that that doesn’t automatically mean that the show is doomed. Not entirely. I like Heroes, right? (Of course, WHEN is that going to air again? Damn…) Generally, Minear’s stuff is pretty wacky and hard to get into the mainstream, and THAT is why they struggle. Firefly: cowboys and spaceships… whatever Wonderfalls elevator-pitches as… et cetera.Drive isn’t like that. This thing is (on paper) a mainstream slamdunk, embodying concepts from a number of shows that do pretty darn well — it’s got 24’s time-crunch feel, the ‘chase’ elements of Prison Break a large but memorable cast with some great anti-heroes (like um… Heroes). Wonderfalls might have suffered from casual neglect and Firefly was all but sabotaged, but Fox is really getting behind Drive and promoting the heck out of it.
So what’s it about?

The characters are all (well, mostly all) participants in an illegal cross-country roadrace, with a final payoff of 32 million dollars. Sounds like Cannonball Run? Sure, but while that idea and others like it are shoe-ins for American-viewer love (as the show’s trailer points out — and I will talk about later — cars idle along at very real heart of Americana), that’s not really what the show’s about. The car-race stuff (almost entirely and almost undetectably shot on a green screen) takes a back seat (heh) to the people in the race and whatever Issue has them gunning for the finish line. The main guy — Alex Tully (Firefly‘s Nathan Fillion) — is a landscaper who gets blackmailed into joining the race to recover/save his kidnapped wife (played by Angel’s Amy Acker). Sound like a complicated motivation for someone in a race-show? That’s too bad: pretty much everyone in the Race has complicated stuff going on. We’ve got estranged half-brothers who just found out about each other, Hurricane Katrina survivors, a mentally unstable — or abused, or both — new mother… and some spooky kind of all-seeing, all-knowing forces behind the race itself — the kind of people who say things like “Oh, you lost this leg of the race? Here’s your penalty — go do [something morally objectionable] — we want to watch.”
So why do *I* like it?
1. Issues, issues, issues. These characters have got em, in spades, and it makes them interesting as hell. I really want to know what’s going on with these guys — what’s going to happen to them, and how long these partnerships will last before shattering and reforming and shattering again under the pressure.
2. Depth. These characters have got it. Sometimes that depth is really profound and moving, and sometimes it’s a dark, watery place with strange, scary creatures moving around within. Watch the third episode. Watch Alex Tully racing along the highway, cocooned (literally) in his past life. Watch that small, fierce little smirk crawl from the corner of his mouth and up into his eyes. You’ll know what I mean. Watch the depths that get hinted at in the forces behind the Race, too — it’s good stuff.
3. Cars. I’ve spoken about this before in another context, but there’s something about cars that taps into people at a bone-deep, hind-brain level. There isn’t an environment today that cars don’t seep into, or an activity; we’ve left our life behind in them, traveled in them, arrived in them, broken them, fixed them, abandoned them, found them, had sex in them, lived in them, died in them, and carried ourselves, our families, or bodies (dead or alive) in them. They’re as much a part of our lives as our pets, our family, our loved ones. Sometimes they ARE our loved ones. Minear gets that, and he brings it in without hitting us over the head with it — not every car is special, or has a story, or a personality, but every single one of them in the show — every SINGLE one, tells us about the person driving it with a kind of genius, instinctive shorthand that I bet most of us don’t even realize we know how to read, fluently; HAVE known how to read since before we could ride without a booster seat.
Watch the show. Afterwards, pick out the cars and see what they tell you about the drivers. It’ll fill pages.
Watch the show into its third episode, where we finally get past all the intros and lead-in action and basic backstory and get to sink into the characters a little more.
Mostly, just watch the show. Try it out. If you don’t like it, I won’t say a thing. :)