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Sanctuary

We just finished watching Sanctuary, a Sci Fi Channel series that premiered on October 3, 2008. According to Wikipedia, it's the highest rated original series premiere since Eureka debuted in July 2006 for the Sci Fi Channel, and it has been renewed for a second season.

I don't consider it must-see television, but I do like it. I can see it occupying that niche that Stargate: SG-1 held in my television hierarchy. It's not great drama with Emmy-worthy performances, but it's solidly entertaining television where the actors seem to be having a good time and the writers aren't afraid to play with concepts.

The Stargate feel isn't coincidental, given that the creator and co-writer of Sanctuary was a writer and producer for the former show, and that several Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis alums have already appeared during the first season in addition to star Amanda Tapping. The similiarities pretty much end there.

To me, the premise feels fresh, or at least it's something I haven't seen often, and the production team does a good job of blending CGI with real props to establish atmosphere. It's not contemporary spaceship sci-fi, and it's not fantasy with wizards and paladins. No, instead, much of the technology used and the tone of the show is decidedly steampunk, paying tribute to Jules Verne and Sherlock Holmes. Instead of exploring other worlds, the characters explore the wonders present on a fictional Earth.

The Sanctuary is a research facility and safe house owned and directed by Dr. Helen Magnus. While many of its residents would not be out of place in a turn of the century carnival sideshow, Magnus and her staff shelter and study Abnormals out of compassion and a desire to understand. Indeed, were it not for her intervention, many would be endangered by unscrupulous groups seeking to use them or annihilate them.

I've enjoyed most of the casting choices so far. I think Amanda Tapping has done a good job reinventing herself and shaking off a decade of playing SG-1's Samantha Carter. Christopher Heyerdahl's quite magnetic as John Druitt -- sort of like Hannibal Lecter as a wounded puppy when he's being interrogated by Watson. Speaking of Watson, played by Peter Wingfield, they killed him off way too soon! :( And why the heck couldn't Helen just open a vein and heal him? It obviously helped John.

I'm glad the Cabal turned Ashley. I understand her use for the writers -- a connection point between John and Helen; a pawn to be used against her mother, etc. -- but the character has just been annoying so far. Again, I know why, but we get it -- she's young, rash, and inexperienced. I have hope that she'll improve next season if they let her stay bad.

In my opinion, the only real weakness of the show is the tendency to deliver monster-of-the-week filler episodes between the arc story eps. Yes, such stories reveal the day-to-day life of the team and provide some character insights, but in just the first 13 episodes, Sanctuary has already paid tribute to The Thing, the Star Trek tribble episode, Cloverfield, and Fight Club (it's apparently becoming mandatory for sci-fi shows to cover that one, though at least Sanctuary used it to advance the arc story). I don't mind the occasional homage, but I'd like to see more arc and less filler. My husband disagrees with me on this one, but he likes B movies.

Despite that one caveat, I think Sanctuary has potential, and I hope Sci Fi will keep it around long enough for it to fully hit its stride. I like it better than any of the other shows I've seen that debuted in 2008 (True Blood, for example), and I definitely plan to tune in for Season 2.

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