Three Ways 'Siberia' Went Very, Very Wrong

Siberia (Image: NBC.com)

I know, I know… ‘only three?!’

Siberia went from charmingly well-produced fluff to a hot(!) mess that we watched in the desperate hope against hope that it would somehow save itself – or at least tell us *something* about all the Mysterious Mysteries it laid out in its one (and quite probably only) short season.

Instead, the series that sucked me in with a real looking fake reality show and tickled me in the part of my brain that likes metaphorical tickling with some intriguing touches of plot turned into something big and supernaturalish.1 It had one consistent good trait: every episode contained, somewhere, a nice bit of plot advancement and a surprising twist! at the end. You can get away with having a series built on just those things, especially in an eleven episode run, if you don’t stumble with the rest of your 41 minutes. The problem is that for every sweet little touch – the three sets of tracks coming through the snow; Miljan or Sabina tucking something away – there’s half an episode or more of:

1. No direction

The series lacked a flow to the visual feel. I say flow as opposed to consistency because you wouldn’t want the production to limit itself to mostly verite, or artful reailty-esque fill shots, or even the clearly produced moments.2 Once you’ve introduced the plot and mixed in any style other than straight reality show, you’ve given yourself permission to fudge things in service of the tale. Speaking of fudge, a brief metaphor – they had vanilla cake, and chocolate cake, and some nice toppings. They should have made marble cake with an appropriate frosting, smoothly and sometimes unexpectedly blending between visual flavors. Instead they cut a few odd-shaped slices here and there and dropped them onto the plate and said ‘Look! Cake!’ Technically true, but not as appealing.

2. No direction, part deux

There were many clunkers of line delivery, not necessarily the lines themselves, so we can’t blame it all on the writers.3 All the actors had more than one well-performed scene or exchange, so it can’t be a total lack of talent. While it could be a mismatch of talent and role, as not every actor is capable of playing every nuance, the fact that every single performer had some clunkers leads me to believe the directors4 didn’t know the phrase ‘Let’s do that again.’ When shooting for natural and realistic it’s really easy to let a performance slide to too understated. Rerunning the scene, asking for a bit more punch on the line, hell reminding everyone that this is television, not reality television, and therefore you can act as opposed to shooting for ‘genuine emotion without overdoing it’ and coming off flat and/or stagey – all that is the purview and responsibility of the director.

2a. Mumble mumble mumble

This fits with the lack of good direction to the actors – I had the closed captions on every dang episode.

3. Skimping on the budget (and not hiding the results)

I get that Tunguska/Chelyabinsk had to be teased in there, but that closing shot of episode 6 looked ridiculous in comparison to everything that came before. If it’s important enough to be a set piece, or a reveal, or whatever, it needs to be prioritized in the budget process. If it can’t be so prioritized, find another way to tell that part of the story. Otherwise you don’t look like a reality show with a sci-fi twist; you look like a cheap sci-fi show. And we have Syfy for that!

Two honorable mentions:

  • The wrong characters survived – I will cop to this just being me preferring Natalie over Annie. And over Irene. And over Daniel. And, by the end, over Neeko.
  • Too much falling off of things – Following soon after Johnny’s elegant double back twist from the Tesla tower, I’m still struggling to understand what having Daniel fall off the ladder and hit his head, only to actually be fine when he insists he’s fine, added to anything.

Siberia gets5 a lot of justified flak for plodding plotting, some bad writing, and some worse casting. But what really caused this show to plummet from a good pitch, solid initial premise, and watchable first several episodes  is a lack of vision – or the skill set to implement that vision within the production’s constraints – from the team at the top.

And ultimately that, more than anything else, will leave you lost and alone in the wilderness.6

  1. Come back! Only at times! And not as smug about it as Lost!  
  2. Where the hell did that crane/zoom on the sniper in episode eleven come from? Did they know they were cancelled (they are cancelled, right?) and the second unit was like ‘hey let me get something for my reel!’?  
  3. I’m still convinced that this show had more than a few semi-improvised scenes, where the actors were given a concept or an outline of the lines and allowed to shade them however they chose. I really, really want an oral history of this show, for use as an academic case study if nothing else.  
  4. This is key: Three directors for eleven episodes. Even better – their credits add up to sixteen episodes directed. For eleven episodes. So some episodes had two directors, presumably working in the two separated locations, trying (obviously not trying that hard) to match style and dramatic thrust.  
  5. Got? Probably got at this point…  
  6. With only a veloci-werewolf powered by the Green Lantern as company  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles
He does things. That's all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv