Welcome back to the big leagues, NBC.
With Monday night's premiere of "The Event," the network that as recently as last year seemed hopelessly mired in creative and financial chaos has finally located a tent pole, a new show as big, brash and promising as "Heroes" was a few years back.
Though flashing the post- 9/11 mythology of "24" along with the fractured time frames of "Damages," "The Event" unfurls a much larger canvas on which a disparate cast of characters, from Jason Ritter's engaging young Everyman, Sean Walker, to Blair Underwood's recently elected President Martinez, are caught up in a net of mysterious and lethal situations all leading to, or possibly from, the event in question.
Opening as news footage of a presidential press conference is interrupted by rumbling mayhem, the first episode works its tension-building way backward and forward, often showing the nexus of one scene repeatedly before following a different character's subsequent actions. So we meet Sean (Ritter), pale and panicked, on board a flight that a man in a black SUV seriously wants to keep from taking off. Flash back further and we see Sean preparing to go on a Caribbean cruise with his girlfriend, Leila ( Sarah Roemer), who is leaving her young daughter with her parents. Sean plans to ask Leila to marry him on the trip, and though he receives the blessing of Leila's father ( Scott Patterson, late of "Gilmore Girls"), suffice to say that things do not go as planned.
Meanwhile, at a secret, snowy military installation, the guy from the black SUV (Simon Lee, played by Ian Anthony Dale) is deep in conversation with Sophia ("ER's" Laura Innes), trying to convince her that the election of a new president means that "they" should at least be warned of "the event," but Sophia's not buying it — no matter how cooperative the new president might seem, his advisors won't even let him find out about "this place."
"This place," it turns out, is a prison where 79 "detainees" have been held without the president's knowledge or, one assumes, full benefit of the Geneva Convention. When Underwood's Martinez does find out, much to the chagrin of CIA Director Blake Sterling ( Zeljko Ivanek, who is building a terrific career out of creepy but possibly righteous advisors), he decides, against the objections of Cabinet members, to release the detainees.
Certainly, if there were an Emmy to be awarded for creative use of pronouns, "The Event" would win hands down. Indecipherable "theys" and "we's" abound, and although the political overtones of Guantanamo and "need-to-knows" are clear, what exactly we are dealing with is not. Aliens? Time travelers? Residents of a parallel universe? Or just political activists with really groovy weapons?
Sci-fi is having a network renaissance these days, with alien and science-based über-myth — "Fringe," "V" — competing against all those vampires. "The Event" clearly seeks to fill the hole left by " Lost," albeit, one hopes, in a less loose-ends-loving way. Just as "Lost's" greatest strength was character arc — what will happen to an assortment of fairly ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstance — "The Event" seems prepared to make its characters as complex as its storyline, always an event worth attending.