Monday, September 20, 2010

NYTVF ’10: Pioneer One

Moving from the web to theater screenings and then ultimately to television might sound like a counter-intuitive path for a property to travel, but that is exactly the trick several webisode productions are trying to pull off by entering the pilot competition at the 2010 New York Television Festival. Although one might expect a good science fiction pilot to be almost prohibitively expensive to produce, one of this year’s best entries is in fact a genre production. Indeed, writer Josh Bernhard and director Bracey Smith’s pilot Pioneer One (trailer here) is definitely worth seeing tomorrow as part of Drama program number one.

A Homeland Security agent assigned to Montana, Tom Taylor does not see a lot of action. Unfortunately, that suddenly changes when a rash of radiation sickness strikes a series of northern border towns, causing his superiors to suspect a dirty bomb. However, when the source is traced to a vintage Soviet space capsule carrying a desperately malnourished Russian passenger, the mystery takes on deeper, perhaps cosmic dimensions.

At about a half hour in length, Pioneer only hints at how Taylor will approach this case. However, we get a good sense of him as a character thanks to two very sharply written scenes. In one, we happily learn Taylor is not a by-the-book kind of agent, while his subordinate Sophie Larson will probably be the Scully to his Mulder.

We also meet Taylor’s apparently retired mentor, “Norton,” whom he calls for some perspective on the Soviet mindset during the Cold War. His response: “I’d never put anything past them.” Instead of the typical moral equivalency, the obviously crafty old spook asserts (at least for now): “we were crazy too, but they were crazier—I really mean that.” He certainly seems to, thanks to a very cool turn by Laurence Cantor as the agency veteran.

Frankly, webisodes do have a reputation for sterling performances and if Pioneer makes it to the promised land, it will probably have to be recast with several name actors attached. However, the DHS cast is surprisingly strong (a few scientists though, not so much). James Rich does the haggard ex-hotshot agent thing quite well, while Alexandra Blatt counterbalances him rather effectively as the coolly efficient Larson.

Ultimately, Pioneer has to be considered a successful pilot, because it certainly leaves viewers intrigued. While the creative team has been assiduously raising funds for future installments, a strong showing at NYTVF would definitely help. Development deals really have come out of NYTVF (now in its sixth year), so who knows? For now, Pioneer is well worth checking out online or as part of NYTVF’s Drama program number one, which screens at the Tribeca Cinemas tomorrow (9/21) and Thursday (9/23).