Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tremors: The Series - Feeding Frenzy

The Tremors television series begins, and the Graboid known as El Blanco is hungry.

The creative minds at Stampede Entertainment, the production company behind the Tremors franchise, had long been looking to get a Tremors TV series off the ground. For years, there was a page on their website that listed some of the episode ideas they had when they shopped the idea around in the '90s, along with some concept art of the creatures the show would have featured.

It was the successful direct-to-video release of Tremors 3: Back to Perfection in 2001 that helped Stampede finally make it happen. That success caught the interest of the SciFi Channel (this was before they re-branded as Syfy), and it was on SciFi that a thirteen episode season of Tremors: The Series aired through the spring and summer of 2003.

The series begins with former NASCAR driver Tyler Reed (Victor Browne) riding through the desert on his way to Perfection, Nevada, the tiny, isolated town that served as the setting for the first and third Tremors movies.

At the end of Tremors 3, the residents of Perfection had chosen to cohabitate with El Blanco, an albino member of the Graboid species – those are the giant, prehistoric, worm-like creatures that burrow through the ground, hunting prey on the surface by sensing the vibrations caused by movement. Since the Graboid is an endangered species, El Blanco is the only one currently known to exist (and his albinism prevents him from entering the next stage of the Graboid life cycle, which would entail him bursting open to produce two-legged creatures called Shriekers from within), Perfection Valley is deemed protected land. The few people who live in Perfection have gotten very used to El Blanco's presence. Seismographs set up all over the valley track the Graboid's movement, and monitors on the residents' wristwatches alert them whenever the creature is near. They stop moving, El Blanco passes by, they continue on their way. The Graboid passes right under the center of town at least a couple times a day, and it's treated as if he were merely a subway train going through.

Tourists who visit Perfection sometimes don't fare quite as well, as Tyler discovers when he stops to take a selfie at the sign outside of town that warns of El Blanco's presence. It turns out that El Blanco is very near the sign at this time.

While Tyler watches in horror, the giant beast devours a man who had been hiking in the desert. Tyler scrambles into his Dodge Charger, which he left running with the radio still playing, in an attempt to get out of there, but El Blanco has been drawn to the vibration of the engine and the music and is soon pulling the vehicle down into the ground.

Tyler is about to become the Graboid's snack when the series' primary protagonist arrives on the scene and scares the creature away with a concussion grenade.

The earliest plans for Tremors: The Series had called for the lead characters to be Valentine McKee and Earl Basset, the characters played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward in the original film. (Ward also returned to star in Tremors II: Aftershocks.) But Kevin Bacon surely wouldn't have returned to play Val, which would have been disappointing, so why include the Val character? When the series finally did happen, the character from parts 1 and 2 who had been promoted into the lead as of Tremors 3 remained the lead: survivalist Burt Gummer, as played by Michael Gross, who had previous television experience, having been the dad on the popular '80s sitcom Family Ties.

Given that the series concerns the characters dealing with monstrous threats every episode, it makes sense for Burt to be the star anyway. Val and Earl weren't the professional monster hunter types. Burt certainly is.

Burt takes Tyler into town, where he reveals that he's no average tourist - he's moving into Perfection, having met the Tremors 3 character "Desert Jack" in Las Vegas, where he bought his company from him. Desert Jack's Graboid Adventures, a Jeep tour around town that includes a simulated Graboid attack. Tyler's new home will be the quonset hut/garage that the business is based out of.

Tyler also starts to become acquainted with his new neighbors, who are a mixture of both new characters and familiar ones like single mother Nancy Sterngood (a character from Tremors parts 1 and 3, original actress Charlotte Stewart recast with Welcome Back Kotter's Marcia Strassman) and Jodi Chang (a character from part 3, original actress Susan Chuang recast with Lela Lee), proprietor of the local store, which she inherited from her uncle Walter, who was eaten by a Graboid in part 1. Jodi has turned Chang's Market into a tourist trap,  selling all sorts of souvenier trickets, books written about the Graboid incidents, Burt's survival tip video entitled Burt Gummer: Monster Hunter, etc. She's working on creating a coffee drink she calls the Grabuccino. Chang's Market is also where visitors to the town can rent their own wrist-seismo for their safety.

Jodi isn't the only one who has inherited something from their uncle. Cattle rancher Miguel, introduced in part 1 and killed off in part 3, left his ranch to his niece Rosalita Sanchez (Gladise Jiminez), a new character. She's a Vegas city girl and former showgirl with no ranching experience, but she's working the place with hired hand Harlowe Winnemucca (Branscombe Richmond).

Robert Jayne reprises the role of Melvin Plugg, who was an annoying teenager in the first film and returned to be an annoying adult in the third. He's still annoying in the series. By this point, Melvin is a successful land developer and he's looking to replace Perfection with an expansive housing project called Melville. The residents of Perfection refuse to sell out to him, and their decision to live with El Blanco and have Perfection classified as a protected habitat was spurred on by their desire to make sure Melvin can't take over the town. That hasn't stopped him from continuing to try.

Department of the Interior agent Twitchell (Dean Norris) keeps an eye on Perfection, regularly evaluating whether or not it's safe for the townspeople to continue living in El Blanco's territory.

If things continue the way they have been, the peaceful co-existence may be coming to an end. El Blanco has been acting erratically and insatiably hungry. The hiker Tyler saw get eaten was the seventh person the Graboid has snacked on recently. Burt also comes across the remains of a wild burro El Blanco ate. The combo of the burro and the hiker should be enough to hold the creature over for a few days... But then Burt finds the mutilated corpses of six more burros. There is something very strange going on with Perfection's resident worm. Maybe it has something to do with the low frequency radio waves that have been disrupting monitoring equipment recently, and the dirt bike tracks that have been showing up all over the valley...

Whatever's going on, Burt dedicates himself to getting to the bottom of the situation. As El Blanco sets out to whittle down Perfection's already low population numbers, Tyler also proves to be a capable hero himself.

Written by franchise constants S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Nancy Roberts, and directed veteran television director Bradford May (who also has movies like Darkman II and III on his filmography), Feeding Frenzy gets the series off to a great start, establishing new characters and the new status of Perfection while also re-establishing old characters and the threat at the core of the series. Graboids.

Basing the first episode around Graboid attacks was a wise choice, returning the franchise to its roots. Graboids haven't been much of a threat since the first movie; in Aftershocks they were easily hunted down and killed, it was the Shriekers that came out of the Graboids who were the real threat. In Back to Perfection, the Graboids caused some trouble at the start, but were overshadowed by the final stage of their life cycle, the Ass-Blasters. Here it's all about El Blanco, and he can be very dangerous when he wants to be.

The returning characters are as fun to watch as ever, with the recasts that had to be made working out well, and the new characters are nice additions, all of them bringing a likeable presence to the table.
Tyler is basically here to be Burt's sidekick throughout the series, and thankfully he's a cool guy. Twitchell is somewhat antagonistic to our heroes, but he's such a blowhard that he's an entertaining character in his own way.

I'm always hoping to get further entries in the Tremors franchise, so I was overjoyed when this series hit the air waves to provide me with several more hours of adventures in the world of Graboids, Shriekers, and Ass-Blasters. The show's low budget shows through at times in this premiere episode, but that doesn't have an effect on the enjoyment factor for me. Overall, Feeding Frenzy proved that Tremors: The Series was going to be exactly the show I was hoping for. It was clearly going to be a lot of fun to make weekly trips back to Perfection.

No comments:

Post a Comment