I’m a couple years late on this one, complaining about a series that is on the verge of ending anyway, but there’s never a bad time to explain and learn from failure. Good speculative fiction shows are hard to come by, needing to strike a good balance of milieu, characters, special effects, and story, all while swimming upstream against the public sentiment against sci-fi and fantasy as a niche genre. Taking all that into consideration, I’m willing to give a little bit of leeway and goodwill to a series that seems to have potential.
Warehouse 13 has squandered that goodwill and any potential it might have had.
If you haven’t seen Warehouse 13, it is a “Syfy” original series centered around the eponymous warehouse, which is used to store and contain various objects of various kinds all of which contain some innate power, anything from Timothy Leary’s glasses, which allow the wearer to view the world in a distorted, psychedelic way, to Jack the Ripper’s lantern, used to hold the notorious killer’s victims spellbound in place, and everything in between. Some of these “artifacts” are as large as a building, some are in multiple pieces, and some are innately evil. Our heroes have to go out and retrieve these objects and get them back to the Warehouse for storage.
It’s a cool concept, with a lot of possibilities for different kinds of artifacts and how they could be used, the other forces that would be trying to obtain them, even internal power struggles amongst the higher-ups about the usage of these artifacts. What we ended up getting instead was a mediocre, silly, dumbed-down show with painfully stupid characters.
It’s even more of a shame because, in retrospect, it started out pretty strong. Aside from the premise, which I liked and still like, there were a couple of good characters. Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) is perfect as the grizzled, knowledgeable veteran with a literal bag of tricks. Mrs. Frederick (CCH Pounder) is the subtly menacing supervisor of the Warehouse team, managing to make a middle-aged woman into a seriously intimidating presence. Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), joining partway through the first season, was a delight as the young, street-smart computer genius well-supplied with a snarky attitude and a burgeoning father/daughter-type relationship with Artie. The primary protagonists, Peter Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Berrng (Joanne Kelly) were never spectacular, but early on, they were, at least, relatively inoffensive.
Slowly, however, so slowly as to be somewhat difficult to notice watching in real time, the show’s tone changed… it turned from a serious show with light humor to essentially a comedy with fake, forced drama once or twice a season. It started with the gradual exaggeration of the characters’ most “comedic” traits: Pete’s childishness, Myka’s anxiety, Artie’s grumpiness, and Claudia’s, well… Claudia became the obvious pet character of the series, the closest I’ve seen to a Mary Sue in a live action television show.
By midway through the second season, it was almost impossible to take Warehouse 13 seriously anymore. It’s just not believable that the government, or anyone, would trust people who act this clownish with items that can literally be as powerful as a nuclear weapon. Pete and Myka are ridiculously incompetent, not only are they not trained investigators (a problem from the very start as they are, inexplicably, Secret Service agents), but they’re the worst Secret Service agents ever, able to be outfought, out-maneuvered, out-shot, and out-done by ever tin plate villain to come down the pike.
Almost every conflict ends up being resolved either by dumb luck or Claudia’s increasing Mary Sue powers. Actually, that’s not true, sometimes conflicts end very badly for our heroes. People die, friends depart, homes are destroyed, but, in one of the most absurd parts of the show, the reset button is always, always hit. Every season they throw in a cliffhanger, and every following season opener, everything that happened previously is completely erased by plot magic.
That and the appalling lack of concern with continuity or internal canon are the biggest non-character-related problems with Warehouse 13. When was the Tesla (Warehouse agents’ taser-like stun gun) invented? Who’s a single child and who has siblings? Who was married and who wasn’t? Does Myka not eat sugar or does she love Twizzlers? The answer is whatever the show requires. It may sound like nit-picking, but it’s the kind of thing that really wears on me.
I’ve given enough reasons why this show upsets me, but there is one other atrocity – related, of all things, to the Twizzler question above – that Warehouse 13 commits. It has the most blatant, offensive, full-frontal product placement I have ever seen. It started with Myka suddenly loving Twizzlers, but, by Season Three, characters would literally stop in their tracks to talk about the features of the car they’re driving. It’s like having a car commercial in the episode. Mind-bogglingly disrespectful to the audience.
Ultimately, the disrespect for the viewers is the overarching problem of Warehouse 13. The show-runners didn’t believe in the intelligence of their audience and didn’t care. They appealed to the lowest common denominator and ruined what could have been a great series. I’m not sure who to blame for this… not the actors, but was it the writers? Was it network interference? Or was it the producer, Jack Kenny? I’m not sure, but someone dropped the ball. Someone is to blame for this, not that it matters anymore. The show was still successful, and is only this year ending with it’s fifth and final season.
I still wish I could’ve seen the show that Warehouse 13 might’ve been.