Surface: The Complete Series
August 29, 2006
Jonas Pate, Josh Pate, Jeffrey Reiner, Rick Wallace,
Starring: Lake Bell, Jay R. Ferguson, Carter Jenkins, Eddie Hassell, Rade Serbedzija, Leighton Meester, Ian Anthony Dale, Brent Sexton, Louanne Cooper,
Along with Night Stalker, Surface was one of the new crop of science fiction/horror themed television shows to get cancelled early in its run lasting only 15 episodes. The show originally aired on NBC and was heavily promoted but was unable to garner decent ratings before being relegated to the Sci-Fi Channel. Surface’s creators gambled on a lack of recognizable names in the cast in favour of expensive production values and an emphasis on plot and exposition.
Surface is the brainchild of the Pate brothers who openly acknowledged that their short-lived show was a pastiche of Steven Spielberg influences, most significantly Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982). Like the former film, Surface introduces several disparate subplots and protagonists who initially have no links to each other. In North Carolina, a kid named Miles (Jenkins) plays in the water at night and spots a strange, amphibious creature. In the Antarctica, the U.S. Navy discovers one of their submarines without a crew but Dr. Aleksander Cirko (Shebedgia) and his crew find scratches all over it and a large bite mark.
In Monterey, California, a young oceanographer by the name of Laura Daughtery (Bell) takes a deep underwater trip in a submersible and discovers a field of craters that go deep into the Earth. Some kind of powerful, unseen force comes out of one of them and shorts out all of her video feeds. Laura is convinced that she encountered some kind of sea monster while her topside crew are understandably skeptical. Off the coast of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico, two thrill-seeking brothers go deep sea fishing when they come across a large sea creature. One of them stupidly shoots and hits it with his spear gun. It rapidly drags him off (why didn’t he just let go?) leaving the survivor, Rich (Ferguson) to eventually surface unconscious.
From this point, the show follows four distinct subplots. Miles goes out on the water the next night with his best friend Phil and they find a bunch of strange looking eggs floating in the water. They take one and Miles puts it in his aquarium where it hatches and proceeds to eat all of the fish in it. Then, it busts out and wreaks havoc before he manages to catch it and raise it like he would a common pet at the risk of getting in a lot of trouble with his parents.
Laura returns the next day to find the military crawling all over the place and her submersible confiscated by Dr. Cirko. She meets with him and admits to seeing the unknown creature. In South Carolina, a large creature is found washed up on the shore. The U.S. government maintains that it is a whale but Laura recognizes it as the creature she saw go by her submersible. Rich also recognizes it as the thing that dragged off his brother and the two, obsessed by their respective encounters, travel to South Carolina. The last subplot involves the subsequent government cover-up and its ties to a secretive multinational corporation with Davis Lee (Dale) as the operative in charge with tracking down Laura and Rich but we soon learn that he has his own agenda.
Surface is certainly well-made with interesting characters and an engaging cast breathing life into them, in particular the actors who play Rich and Laura. Rich is reminiscent of Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters. After his alien encounter he becomes so obsessed with understanding what happened to his brother and finding these aliens that he abandons his family and befriends Laura because she has had a similar experience. Laura’s a smart, tough oceanographer that initially evokes Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character in The Abyss (1989). Laura Bell plays her as confident and proactive but also vulnerable thanks to the presence of her young son who helps humanize her character.
What’s interesting about Surface is that, unlike Invasion, the scope of the show is global with scenes of other alien encounters taking place in Australia and South Africa but with a definite focus on events in the United States as that’s where the main characters reside. The series shows how these aliens affect daily life and on a scale that gives what we are watching perspective. Ultimately, Surface falls somewhere between The X-Files and Invasion, between what could be, paranoia and science fiction.
There are deleted scenes for six scenes.
“Sci-Fi Special Effects.” The Pate brothers originally envisioned Surface to be a movie but a combination of shows like Lost and advances in CGI gave them an opportunity to expand their idea into a T.V. show. This featurette shows how they applied CGI effects to the backgrounds of scenes and, of course, to the creatures.