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The Sentinel Review

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by Simon Crust May 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    It's one of the requirements of sentience, awareness of ones surrounding, and the tools used for that purpose are the senses. Developed over millennia of evolution our five senses along with reason have placed us at the top of the food chain, but even the lowliest of single celled animals have rudimentary senses, so perhaps we shouldn't be oh so smug. Heightened awareness is something most people achieve in there lifetime, a point in time when the five senses become acutely responsive, everything becomes that much more 'real'; normally though its for a few fractions of a second and at times of extreme trauma; for example the moment before a car crash, suddenly everything is crystal clear. Imagine then having such heightened senses all the time, able to see, hear, feel, smell and taste what wonders the world would hold. For that is the basic premise of 1996's The Sentinel, the then fledgling network UPN show that followed in the wake of the supernatural TV that was dominated by The X Files. Coming from Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo the same creative team that brought The Flash to the small screen, over its short three year run it managed to notch up sixty five episodes and a loyal fan base, and me? I'd never heard of it. Seems I could do with some of that super hearing eh?

    Captain Jim Ellison (Richard Burgi) was thought lost in the Peruvian jungle along with the rest of his team, but when new intelligence arrives of possible survivors a team is sent to retrieve them. During their search Jim, the only survivor, descends on the them, he has been made a 'Sentinel' of the local tribe due to his unusual sensory perception and with their help held the 'pass' as per his orders and hopes the team are his relief. We then jump five years ahead, Jim is now a Detective in the Cascade Police force in Washington, where after a four day stake out Jim's hypersensitive senses start acting again; though this time he has no control. Seeking an answer to this phenomenon he undertakes a series of hospital tests, that not surprisingly come back negative, but in the process Blair Sandburg (Garett Maggart) makes contact; he is an anthropological student making a study of hypersensitivity in 'sentinels', leaders of pre-civilisations picked because of a rare genetic anomaly that gives them the hyper sense. Blair convinces Jim that the two should work together so he can help Jim control and manipulate his new powers to the further his police work whilst simultaneously using him as a test subject for his doctorate. With this set in place the pair manages to apprehend the Switchman, a bomber causing havoc on the streets of Washington. In the second episode, their 'partnership' is further cemented when it has official sanction by the police Captain Simon Banks (Bruce A. Young) during a siege of the police station. And thus the scene is set for the rest of the season; the unusual paring and the special powers providing the hook for the series.

    Actually, that was probably the initial idea, however as the series developed over the ten episodes, much like the Flash before it, it was the incidental characters that fast became the hook, as without them the show is pretty mediocre. Apart from Jim's special abilities the show is very, very formulaic, and even with them it soon falls into 'villain of the week' uncatchable until Jim uses his special abilities; even the villains are drawn from unoriginal sources! Thankfully with plenty of back stories given to flesh out the characters and the terrific 'Stan and Ollie' pairing of Jim and Blair there is much characterisation to hang an emotional hat. Unfortunately, at least to me, it was not quite enough, the unoriginality of the individual episodes and premises left a rather unsavoury taste; it is a huge shame because had Bilson and Paul De Meo shown the spark of originality they had with The Flash (at least towards the end), this could have been so much better. That is not to say the show is bad, it's not, but instead of standing out it quickly becomes run of the mill; though I'm told much improves in later seasons. One thing that did stand out was the visual effects, being both great and awful; the show loves big explosions, big noisy and impressive explosions and look very good. The show also loves blue screen and fledgling CG effects that look awful are badly composted, with halos and look terrible, talk about chalk and cheese.

    Another common factor with The Flash, if you'll forgive the pun, is the speed; the show races ahead with its ideas so fast there is little time to comprehend what has just happened; for example no explanation is given for Jim's sudden loss and appearance of his abilities, a glib one sentence glosses over in a huge plot contrivance, later episodes fail to delve into an answer either. In fact the entire season could be seen to race at break neck speed, pulling out every contrivance to make sure Jim saves the day; perhaps I'm being a little too cynical, or too old. It is true to say that the series does have an over riding sense of fun even though it takes itself seriously helped in that fact by Burgi's blue eyed all American hero portrayal of the lead character. He is believable in his role, the rock on which the series stands complimented perfectly by Maggart's wide eyed innocence and jokey nature; they are surrounded by a gaggle of other actors all of whom pull together. It is also true to say that without this foundation I'd have found the show unwatchable; but I never did; okay, it's never going to be in my top shows, but after ten episodes I was left somewhat apathetic towards the whole thing. Put it this way, if I watched TV and the show was on, and I'd lost the remote, I'd watch it and be entertained, but I wouldn't switch from another channel to find it.