Eleventh Hour (TV)

I've been watching this new TV series, Eleventh Hour, and I have mixed feelings about it.

For those who haven't heard about it, the show started a couple years ago as a four-episode British series (each episode 90 minutes long), and is now being remade as an ongoing one-hour-per-episode American series. The premise in both cases is that Dr. Hood, a brilliant scientist-of-all-trades, investigates science-related crimes for a government agency, with the help of a female government agent who's there to be his bodyguard and to give him someone to explain stuff to so the audience can overhear.

I started by skimming two of the episodes of the original British version, which I pretty much hated, despite Patrick Stewart in the lead role. By turns annoying, ridiculous, clunky, over-expository, slow, and generally weak. Lots of long lingering, slow, vaguely ominous shots of nothing much going on. The episode focusing on computer stuff handled the computer stuff badly (they were Hollywood computers rather than real computers) and was incredibly anticlimactic. And I felt that the female lead (the bodyguard) was basically inept--seemed like the only reason for her presence was so Hood could explain stuff.

But my devotion to Rufus Sewell is such that I gave the first episode of the new American version a try, and I found, rather to my surprise, that I liked it.

Some good things:

Marley Shelton does a great job (and has a great part) as FBI agent Rachel Young. She's a tough, competent, kick-ass agent; very believable as a bodyguard; attractive (though they've gone perhaps a little too far with setups that have her, for example, running through a hotel in her underwear); and, perhaps best of all, smart. She's not just an assistant; she's actively involved in solving the mysteries, and regularly comes up with answers that Hood misses. They make a good team.

Rufus Sewell as Dr. Hood. And his cheekbones. I'll watch him explain science concepts any old day. (Marley Shelton's cheekbones ain't bad either.) I have occasionally flashbacks to Monk while watching Hood in action, but Hood is less damaged and more generally competent. (And the show doesn't rely on humor of embarrassment the way Monk did.)

The science so far has been largely reasonably accurate as far as I can tell. It sounds to me like they may actually be listening to their science advisor.

In particular, somewhere late in an episode, Hood sometimes makes an offhand comment that dispels a popular misconception. For example, in the cloning episode, near the end Hood finally points out that a clone is not a copy of a person or their personality, just their DNA (something that too many science fiction writers don't seem to grasp). And in the autism episode, near the end Hood finally points out that neurotypicality is not inherently "better" than being on the autism spectrum.

Good emotional moments; partly due to good acting on the part of minor non-recurring characters, partly because Hood can be surprisingly empathetic.

Occasional funny moments, though the focus of the show isn't on humor.

Some not-so-good things:

Every one of the first four episodes has prominently featured one or more children in mortal danger. Once or twice would've been fine, and the kid actors generally do a fine job, and it's nice to see that Hood is good with kids and likes them--but I'm really hoping that kids aren't the focus of every episode.

Agent Young is perfectly happy to bend or break the law all the time. Locked doors don't stop her; if nobody answers a knock, she picks the lock. She's happy to abuse the Patriot Act and use her intelligence-agency connections to acquire information. It's the kind of thing that we put up with from superheroes, but I find it offputting in an FBI agent in a more or less realistic TV show.

I'm worried that Young is falling for Hood. I imagine they'll do the Moonlighting thing and play with the attraction without it ever going anywhere, but I'd be happier if she were a little less enamored of him. (Though, y'know, I'd be happy to watch the two of them make out in some other context.)

Sometimes Hood just doesn't act like a scientist. In particular, in the second episode, there's a major (and sympathetic) character who's a homeopath. After she mentions having read Hood's article about dark energy (which she describes in kind of mystical terms), Hood treats her as a colleague. He never mentions that there's no solid scientific evidence that homeopathy has any scientific basis. This seemed bizarre to me; I can't imagine a real-world scientist with Hood's personality failing to comment on the issue.

Some interesting things:

I saw a few minutes of an episode of NUMB3RS the other day, and now I'm wondering if this is a new genre: popularized but fairly accurate science and math concepts wrapped in mystery/thriller/adventure packaging.

'Cause that's kind of what a lot of early science fiction was.

So I'm wondering if shows like these are filling some of the same role that that kind of sf fills, only for the general public instead of for people who are already into the science and math stuff. These shows are at least somewhat educational as well as providing mass-market entertainment. Do audience members like the feeling that they're learning while being entertained, and that's part of the appeal of the shows? I don't know, but I'm curious.

Another perhaps related thing that I wonder about is whether this show will result in adding to people's fear of science and technology. After all, every episode features a threat to people's (kids'!) well-being that's based in science/tech run amok.

But on the other hand, it's Hood's scientific prowess that saves the day each time. And most of the villains have turned out to be vaguely sympathetic--to have emotional and family-oriented motives that cause them to not consider the consequences to others of their actions.

Anyway. Although the show isn't science fiction (or, arguably, is very-near-future sf, in that the science and medicine are generally just slightly beyond today's cutting edge), I detect in it a certain sfnal sensibility, and an engagement with some of the same issues and ideas that sf engages with.

4 Responses to “Eleventh Hour (TV)”

  1. Vardibidian

    Can you please keep your mind on the important things, rather than being distracted by irrelevancies?

    What is Rufus Sewell wearing? And how much of it does he remove? And is his hair long and curly/floopy over his eyes (his eyes!) or is it short and slicked back?


  2. Michael

    So which pieces of the science and medicine are beyond current tech? It had been striking me as being quite reasonable about the practical limitations of science and medicine in the episodes I saw.

  3. Jed

    V: I don’t know any of the answers to your questions, because I was too busy watching the cheekbones to be distracted by such irrelevancies.

    …Okay: he wears a full set of clothing, and removes very little of it, at least so far. Alas. His hair is short and semi-curly, and it doesn’t floop over his eyes at all, which means we get some excellent shots of him staring intensely into the camera, like in this promo photo (also showing Shelton). Or this other promo photo. Or this yet another promo photo. Sometimes, of course, he’s looking off to the side, to show off his profile. Sometimes he kneels by a collapsed body to demonstrate his medical expertise. (Another minor side thing I like about the show: as shown in that last photo, they don’t hesitate to call in the cops and/or emergency medical people as needed.) And sometimes he just stands around like a clothing model.

    He has a kind of brooding look to him in some of those shots; it’s a look he does well, of course, but in the show itself it comes off as intensity rather than brooding. (The character has a tragic past, but doesn’t mention it very often.)

    Michael: I don’t think that human cloning has gotten as far in real life as it did in the show, and I don’t think that real-life neuroscience has produced the little brain-implanted wires that featured in another episode. But I could be wrong about both of those things.

  4. Lourdes

    This is one of the best shows. I have to agree with you about the pilot, when Hood tells the man about DNA and gives a touching explanation about how cloning is not what you think.
    However, I have to disagree with you about Rachel falling for Hood. I love the chemistry between them, they have a great dynamic, but I don’t think there’s nothing going on, not that I wouldn’t want to see it. They respect each other, if Rachel doesn’t understand something he immediately goes back and explains her and Rachel constantly listens to Hood’s stories and his wife’s death and neer complains.
    Keep watching, it’s just great.


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