John Rogers seems to have the ability to make a show that panders to all my guilty pleasures, and this is another one. The Librarians seems to be perfect for a forty-something viewer who’s hungry for a little nostalgia for the glory days of E.R. (who knew Rebecca Romijn looked so much like Maria Bello?), and who’s saturated her mind in the world of The Magic Tree House (on which more soon).
This is a silly show, in the Remington Steele-Hart to Hart vein, and it relies on mildly witty banter and jokes to make it entertaining. It’s not excessively coherent—the idea that a character could immediately intuit an entire worldwide conspiracy in one second is only slightly less believable than the idea that a different character could decode a five hundred year old cipher in ten. The proposition that King Arthur was a left-behind Roman Centurion is accepted as fact a bit quickly. The proposition that the most magical place in the British Isles is London, similarly (especially given that the alternative is Wales and Cornwall, where by most accounts the most likely candidate for Camelot was actually located, and which actually has a long tradition of being a center of magic in Britain). On the other hand, it was nice to see some “grounding” of the magic in traditional theory. (John Dee! Ley lines!) And it was nice to see an explicit contrast between magic and science. Too often stories about modern magic neglect to distinguish between them explicitly. And I kind of like the metaphor of an enormous library (and the visual of enormous card catalogs).
Rogers’s previous show, Leverage, had one “honest man,” formerly an insurance investigator, and a gaggle of four thieves-turned-Robin Hoods. These were: a black male computer hacker, a nutcase female cat burglar, an ex-CIA hitman (played by then-David Foster Wallace lookalike Christian Kane), and an actress and con artist whose acting is only not terrible when she’s not onstage. These found cases where good people had been cheated out of enormous monetary benefits, and worked behind the scenes to con or “persuade” bad people to hand over money, that would then be given to the victims. It was clever, the characters had good chemistry between them, and the cases were entertaining. Also it looked really good in HD.
In The Librarians, the Library (which seems to look quite a bit like Men in Black headquarters) functions as both a repository for all the world’s known and unknown books, and a place of safekeeping for all of its magical artifacts. It is very important, for some reason, related somehow to the fact that the construction of modern cities on top of the earth’s magical ley lines caused magic to lose its power, that magic not be reintroduced to the world. Yet this could be done through the discovery of a single magical artifact. And the Librarian, Flynn Carsen, played engagingly and zanily by Noah Wyle as a man who’s been delving into the Unknown for a little bit too long a time, is determined to make sure it not be. As the Bad Guy says, if magic is reintroduced, their task will be accomplished in one year instead of a hundred. But Flynn’s not taking care of himself, and a NATO anti-nuke tactician, Colonel Eve Blair (Rebecca Romijn), is selected as a Guardian to accompany him. But coincidentally, someone has been killing the great minds of the world, and the two of them set out both to rescue the three remaining potential Librarian candidates, and to prevent the Serpent Brotherhood from releasing the Arthurian magic back into the wild. It’s a lot of fun, the fight scenes, at least, pass the Bechdel Test, and Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin have cameos.
I was less enamored of the ending, in which Flynn goes off to save the universe Library, while Eve stays behind to play Mommy for the three kids. A bit of rhetoric ensues in which he explains to her that the universe Library needs the two of them to work apart, for now. Also, Cassandra, the only woman among the three Librarians in Training, turns out to be the one who betrays them. Like in Leverage, she’s also the one who has serious emotional issues: the other ones’ personality flukes run more to kleptomania and reclusiveness than to simple wackiness. And it would be a shame if Noah Wyle ends up not playing much of a role in subsequent episodes, as the coming attractions hinted could be the case. Three recessive personalities and John Larroquette don’t promise the kind of crazy wit we got in the premiere.