There’s a little black hole left in TV schedule for sci-fi fans this week, with the Syfy channel’s comedy series Eureka coming to a close. Eureka first aired in 2006 and enjoyed consistently high ratings throughout its 5 year run and was one of Syfy’s most successful series.
I was a late comer to the series, picking it up from DVD releases just last year and catching up to watch the fifth and final season as it aired. My first impressions of the show were mild – I thought it was OK, enough to watch as a light bit of veg out viewing. Perhaps the series just took a while to find its stride, perhaps it was me taking a little while to warm to its particular brand of oddness, but by the middle of season 1 I had fallen in love with this strange little show and its strange little town and cast of quirky characters and was this week sorry to see it go.
Eureka centres around Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), a U.S Marshall who stumbles upon this out of the way little town as he and his delinquent daughter, Zoe (Jordan Hinson) drive across the country. While waiting for his car to be repaired, Carter helps solve a town crisis – a little boy goes missing after an accident with a tachyon accelerator causes all sorts of problems for the space time continuum – and is then instated as the town Sheriff.
Carter soon learns that Eureka is no ordinary little town, but is rather a community of scientific geniuses, most of whom work at scientific super lab Global Dynamics, which is all overseen by the Department of Defence. Each episode of Eureka has Carter helping to solve some scientific crisis and a variety of sci-fi mishaps, everything from attack by artificially intelligent killer drone aircraft to a fatal shared dreaming epidemic and genetically modified chicken that turns everyone stupid, and everything in between.
The early episodes were for the most part one off situations with some building towards a meta arc narrative. As the series progressed, the various meta arcs became the focus and there were less one off side characters with the show moving focus to developing a core cast. Numerous regular side characters did remain particularly in later seasons, most notably the cantankerous and highly amusing Dr. Isaac Parrish (Will ‘Wesley Crusher’ Wheaton) and Dr. Holly Marten (Felicia Day).
Characterisation was key to Eureka‘s success and I’m not sure if, had the show continued along the lines of one off episodes with a colourful array of individual side characters it would have been nearly as long running and successful as it was.
Carter is the town’s only (or perhaps one of a rare few) non-geniuses and it is his Everyman perspective that helps explain each scientific conundrum. As the show progresses, he starts to make a bit of fun of himself in this role which was nice to see a script and actors so aware of their character typing. He’s the strong, down to earth type but also has a fun sense of humour and sweet sentimental side that makes him a really likeable character. The show tracks the development of his relationship with Dr. Alison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) and it takes them years to get together, each of them having their respective relationships on the side.
In season 3, Alison is about to re-marry her ex-husband, Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn) before he is dematerialised trying to save the town from a time loop caused by a malfunctioning atomic clock. Stark was one of the show’s most interesting characters. He was set up to function as not only Carter’s rival for Alison, but also his general opposite – he’s a stern super genius, highly sophisticated and generally not very likeable and for the first two seasons he’s almost a villain type of character. It was a clever bit of TV making that had Stark’s character not so much soften but rather show an increasingly likeable side just before his death.
Though it is beset by numerous bad guys and untrustworthy individuals, there is only really one villain in Eureka. Beverly Barlow started out as the town’s psychiatrist and turned out to be using her position to gain leverage over the townsfolk, working with the mysterious Consortium who want to harness the power of Eureka’s scientific position for their own ends. With Beverly popping her head up all through the series, even after she apparently died a few times, her various schemes did almost get to the point where anything could be expected to be pinned on her nefarious involvement. If there’s one thing I will complain about in Eureka it would have been good to have more villains. Senator Wen did turn out to be a villain, she was working with Beverly who by that stage was starting to work for the greater good so even The Villain became less villainous.
In Season 4 Eureka changed forever. Thanks to a nifty bit of accidental time travel back to Eureka’s founding, the core cast of characters – Carter, Alison, Deputy Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), Henry Deacon (Joe Morton) and Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston) – are shifted into an alternate timeline. It wasn’t the first alternate time line narrative Eureka served up, but it was the only one to permanently stick around. In this new world, everything has changed. Fargo is now head of GD; Jack’s former girlfriend, Tess (Jaime Ray Newman) is still around; Alison’s autistic son, Kevin (Mescha Peters/Trevor Jackson) is now a regular kid, not to mention a whole lot older; Henry is married to someone he has only met once before; and Jo, who is now head of GD security and her boyfriend Zane Donovan (Niall Matter) had never got together.
Despite it causing a mind-melting, totally implausible and really, really irritating time paradox, the various shifts and differences made for numerous explanatory episodes, but it also allowed the series to move into other directions. Perhaps this was down the show’s creators needing something significantly different to shake up the various storylines, perhaps any number of other behind-the-scenes matters necessitated the changes (particularly where Kevin was concerned). Whatever the answer, it did serve to further the emotional depths of the characters and really test their mettle. That and the introduction of Dr. Grant, one of Eureka’s founding fathers brought forward in time made for an extra character who made a triumphant and much welcomed return in the final episode of season 5.
Eureka did have a sixth season confirmed, but was cancelled by Syfy claiming it a “business decision.” The fifth season was apparently granted to wrap up the storyline, which considering the cliff hanger ending of season four, we should probably be grateful for.
Everything in the end rolls out nicely for the Eureka townsfolk and in a nice farewell to the preceding years, the final episode, called “Just Another Day” was exactly that, just another day very much like an early episode with Carter having to put himself on the line to save the town from killer wormholes. Diving through a wormhole gave the opportunity for a few flashback moments to highlight the main developments of the series. In an episode that could have so easily turned into a clip-show considering the wormhole premise, this was a good way to wrap it all up.
Everything here has happy ending written all over it. Jo and Zane get engaged; Henry and Grace are happily reunited; Fargo and Holly are off to work together; and Alison tells Jack she’s pregnant, a little nod to the one off alternate time line episode from earlier in the series. The story has the DOD giving Global Dynamics six weeks to shut down, then suddenly changing it to an immediate close, perhaps a little poke at Syfy for retracting their sixth season.
I also particularly enjoyed the little nod to the very first episode that saw Jack and Zoe drive past themselves on their way into and simultaneously out of town. No, it doesn’t make sense, but I still liked it.
Eureka was nothing groundbreaking in terms of science fiction or comedy, though it was still uniquely funny and had its moments of genius – Season 4′s Christmas special that saw the entire town shift between various types of animation was particularly clever and enjoyable. I think the major strength of the series is that it never tried to reach beyond itself as light sci-fi entertainment. There was a bunch of cool sci-fi fantasy gadgets and scenarios that probably had real science nerds arguing and yelling at their TVs. There were no great universal commentaries, no moments of major tragedy. There were a few Earth in Peril moments but they were never anything of the magnitude one would find in hard sci-fi of Star Trek or Battlestar ilk. Eureka delivered on everything it was meant to deliver on – good, fun (if sometimes preposterous) storylines with a host of likeable characters and for this TV fan at least, it will likely be a long wait before anything comes to fill the gap.
What was your favourite Eureka moment? Tell us in the comments below.