There's a whole lot of fast-forwarding and rewinding in the pilot episode of The Event, which aired last night, yanking the viewer from present to past, from now to then, from the nice young guy who's just trying to propose to his girlfriend to the same nice young guy a few months later, who's just trying to hijack a plane. Then there's Blair Underwood, aka President Elias Martinez: One minute — in the past — he's declaring in stentorian tones, "I am the president of the United States"; the next — that would be in the present — he's cowering in fear from the giant jet barreling right at him and his family.
Or was the runaway-plane part the prelude to the future, which is hinted at by Sophia, the beatific prisoner-detainee in a place that looks an awful lot like Gitmo — except that it's in Alaska, not Cuba?
One gets whiplash.
With all this frantic back and forth between prologue and present, it's hard to tell if The Event, NBC's much-hyped answer to Lost, is any good. It is good at the setup, with the pilot episode serving as the hype man to the rest of the series, a P.T. Barnum enthusiastically showing us the goods in rings one, two and three.
In Ring No. 1, we've got the nice guy, Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), who's clearly the hero of the series, notwithstanding the whole terrorist-with-a-gun-on-a-plane bit. Back in the past, we learn that he's got a ring and he's planning to propose to his longtime girlfriend on a romantic cruise, but things keep happening — like he has to save someone from drowning just as he's about to pop the question, and then the next time he tries, his girlfriend is too drunk, and, well, if you get the feeling that something's going to keep postponing this proposal for a long time, you would be right. The would-be fiancée disappears. Which may have something to do with Sean hijacking the plane that the missing girlfriend's pilot dad seems hell-bent on flying into the president.
"Them"? Who are "them," you say? Well, direct your attention to Ring No. 3, where Martinez is traveling to some snowy tundra in Alaska, to meet "them," one of whom is a shackled Sophia (Laura Innes) — the apparent leader — waiting for him with a blissful smile. Why is she, looking all saintly, a prisoner? We don't know, because we are then yanked forward in time to the birthday party, where the president is asking Sophia, "Are you ready?" "We've been ready for a long time," she tells him. "Your time has come," he answers.
Except that, of course, like the nice guy's proposal, Sophia's "time" is going to be delayed just a bit, thanks to that aforementioned speeding plane. And then, suddenly, a ball of fire engulfs the oncoming plane and, like the girlfriend, it goes bye-bye. Or is this her "time"?
"They saved us," Sophia says, looking up at the sky.
"Who?" Martinez asks. "Who saved us?"
"I haven't told you everything."
So what is The Event about? Government conspiracies? Aliens? Terrorists? Will the series creators insist on whiplashing the viewer from past to present and back again through the series' first 10 episodes? Will Underwood play an essential part in the series — or will he be the token Afro-Cuban president who lays back in the cut as the young, handsome — white — hero saves the day? Will the series make sense or will it continue to take the viewer through an Alice in Wonderland maze that never ends? It's hard to say. But in this era of big-budget TV shows filled with explosions, frantic plotlines and convoluted conspiracies — think Heroes, 24, Lost — The Event feels like more of the same.
Teresa Wiltz is The Root's senior culture writer.