Pure, Dumb, Grinning Adrenaline

drive1.png• The first scene had some pretty deep geek resonance for Tim Minear fans: Nathan Fillion being interrogated by Richard Brooks. The final episode of Fillion's previous show, Minear and Joss Whedon's "Firefly," ended the same way. And the fact that Fillion's wife is played by Amy Acker, whose career was made on Minear's "Angel"? Come on. Just ... come on. How am I not gonna smile at that? • The original draft of the pilot was reported to open with a lengthy, complex race scene, instead of dipping into the brief backstories of three of the leads. That would have undoubtedly been a more interesting approach, since (a) the juggling plotlines felt a little too much like every other pulp serial that's been airing the past couple years, and (b) the highway chase scenes were legitimately exciting, and very well choreographed. • J.D. Pardo, who plays Sean, looks like a burn victim in a bad wig. It's bad enough that his "bad boy" half-brother, the ex-con who talks and acts like every bad gang stereotype in Hollywood, hasn't been summarily executed or at least run over by a rival car. But Pardo scares me. Kind of a lot. • Some of the dialogue — more than some, to be honest — was pretty awful. Not that forgettable dialogue is lethal to a show; "Battlestar Galactica" is one of the smartest, most poignant, most politically relevant dramas on the air, but I can't remember more than a handful of memorable lines from three seasons of episodes, and most of them are from Apollo's heartfelt defense of forgiveness/atonement in this season's finale. Good characters and plotting can do wonders to overcome shabby dialogue. But "Drive" seems almost willfully committed to the kind of cheeseball lines you'd expect from a Fox show (see below), which is a shame, considering that Minear has written some damn fine TV: Aside from "Firefly," he wrote for the criminally underviewed "Wonderfalls," as well as some amazing "Angel" episodes. I'm willing (for now) to give Minear the benefit of the doubt and say that some of the clunkier lines came from co-writer Ben Queen. Some advice for Minear: Don't let Queen do the dialogue. Story help, yes. Talking, not so much. • The show's premise — a group of disparate strangers plucked from their lives to compete in an illegal, underground, cross-country road race — is the kind of gloriously ludicrous plot that can really only shine on Fox. ABC's "Lost" can never escape the weight of its own supposed importance, which is one of the reasons it inspires so much love and furor among its most ardent fans and spawned more conspiracy theories and water-cooler hypotheses than "Twin Peaks." But while each episode of "Lost" has to "mean" something, Fox dramas require you to check at least 80% of your brain at the door and go along for the ride. This is why "24" is a success, despite its astounding disrespect for the laws of reality. (It's also why Fox viewers remain fascinated with overhyped pap like "House," which is the same damn episode, week in, week out. It's "Law & Order" with pretty people in white coats.) "Drive" features the kind of you-have-to-be-screwing-with-me setup that is only barely plausible, even for network TV, but that's what makes it so alluring. It's aware of its own preposterousness, right down to the fact that one of the characters makes a slightly cheesy speech to her dad about "blasting off into the unknown," only to lament how lame it sounded. "Drive" is serious about having a good time, and that's what makes it work as well as it does. As far as B-level thrillers go, it really could have been a lot worse.