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Dim-bulb aliens make 'Threshold' less than stellar

Published October 14, 2005 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Imagine flying millions of miles to Earth to attack the human race and forgetting to bring the ray gun.

That's how I feel about the mechanics behind CBS' new science-fiction series, "Threshold," about aliens who travel here to take control of a boatload of humans as they attempt to eventually conquer the planet.

They arrive ready to take over the world one human at a time, but can't seem to get it done in an efficient or expeditious manner. Somebody call Darth Vader.

In this one-hour thriller, which airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on KUTV Channel 2, the aliens are unseen beings that attack a supply ship in the ocean via a video and audio signal that infects the brain if it's seen or heard. Sort of like an alien infestation version of "The Ring."

People who watch the signal long enough become raving loons who attack other people like vicious zombies. To make matters worse, their faces contort like molded Play-Doh, and their brains sometimes implode. Yikes.

Needless to say, these aliens are not here to roll out the welcome mat to the universe. They don't seem to be very bright either. I'll get to that later.

In the pilot, some of the ship's crew who are infected escape before a special government team headed by Molly Caffrey ("Spy Kids' " Carla Gugino) converges on the boat. The team puts into place a contingency plan called "Threshold" to try to stop the alien menace.

Helping the good doctor is a crew of geniuses - brilliant in medicine, mathematics, and linguistics - who also seem to be social misfits. The best part of the show is the cast of scientists, who include "Star Trek: The Next Generation's" Brent Spiner and Peter Dinklage of "The Station Agent."

After watching several episodes, I've given up on the series. Instead of establishing a compelling mythology about these ethereal creatures and what they will do next, "Threshold" is crime drama for aliens.

Every episode works off the same formula. It begins with one of the alien-infected crew members in a different state attacking some poor soul, usually by twisting the victim's head around like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist."

Then the Threshold team is called to the area to investigate. In the tradition of legal procedurals, there is a lot of studying, examining, speculating and hunting for the culprit. So far, they've had to track aliens in a boys' military academy, in a Midwestern town and a big city after a police officer was killed. Tonight, they go after a Miami DJ.

What the writers haven't done is advance the mystery about the alien attack. Intrigue is given up in favor of "CSI"-like storytelling.

Worst of all, I'm always wondering why it's so hard to spread the alien signal. All the beings have to do is broadcast it so people can watch it.

If I were one of those aliens, I would just buy commercial time during "Desperate Housewives" and embed the signal in one of those Carl's Jr. ads with Paris Hilton.

Or better yet, I would attach it to a mass e-mail with a subject header that reads: "Eva Longoria Nude Video!"

Let's just say these aliens aren't adept at social engineering.

I had high hopes for a scary, intelligent thriller in "Threshold." Instead, it's a formulaic cop show with unseen bad guys that's already reached my threshold for boring television.

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Television columnist Vince Horiuchi appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at vince@sltrib.com. For more television insights, visit Horiuchi's blog, "The Village Vidiot," at http://blogs.sltrib.com/tv/.