Remembering “Surface”: Sea Monsters, Dragons, and Lake Bell

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“Surface” is the definition of a series with a one note concept that would have worked much better as a mini-series when all is said and done. Around the mid-aughts, NBC television began working their way in to science fiction and began airing the quite ambitious “Surface.” During 2005, ABC’s “Lost” was taking America by storm and dominating pop culture with its mysterious storylines and baffling plot twists, so every network attempted to build their own franchise in the same vein. “Surface” is a valiant attempt with misguided writing.

And yes, I sat through the whole thing.

Rather than focus on the more complex characters and fantastic situations, NBC decided to just throw a giant monster at audiences, which became the bases for season one “Surface.” The insanely gorgeous Lake Bell plays Laura Daughtery, an oceanographer who goes on an underwater expedition deep in to the sea. While exploring, she’s attacked by a giant life form that seems to have emerged from fiery craters at the bottom of the ocean. Only miles away, character Miles Barnett comes face to face with what looks like an egg after falling off his wake board during a midnight surf.

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Meanwhile, Richard Connelly goes fishing with his brother in Louisiana and the pair is attacked by a mysterious monster. Richard’s brother dies, but he’s dragged in to the depths of the sea and manages to make it to the surface alive. All over the world weird occurrences are beginning to take shape, and the trio of characters is affected by the phenomenon one way or another. Particularly Richard, who begins drawing and envisioning vortexes and becomes so obsessed with them that his marriage is gradually destroyed.

If you’re picturing “Close Encounters,” the writers lift the entire concept wholesale from Spielberg’s film. In fact much of “Surface” is very similar to most of Steven Spielberg’s films, including young character Miles. After finding the sea creature (which Miles named Nimrod), it hatches from an egg and resembles a small baby reptile with mysterious powers and abilities, as well as a strange telepathic bond with his owner after healing his owner with its saliva. There is so much foreshadowing and propping up for future storylines in the first season that watching it is pretty sad since season two never came to television.

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There are some pretty good moments and unusual mysteries to be mined during the short series run, especially with the beautiful Lake Bell and her character’s attempts to battle a mysterious government syndicate intent on covering up the rising tide of incidents across the world, for some reason. Miles storyline is centered on his bond with Nimrod and how he begins forming a symbiosis with the curious but very deadly monster that begins maturing throughout the course of the series. His older sister Savannah (played by a younger Leighton Meester) is a constant source of trouble who begins to slowly realize what Miles is up to and becomes his ally in the mysterious struggle to save Nimrod and prepare for what’s occurring in the sea floor.

The series biggest mystery that it tried to sell as a gimmick for huge ratings was how the monsters at the bottom of the sea looked, and what they were planning. Eventually we do get to see the humongous monsters, and it’s pretty clear that they’re not friendly, and might be trying to terraform the planet for their own habitat. The unveiling is still pretty slick, and there are even more twists involving clones, resurrections, and a cryogenic Noah’s ark at a local plant that ends in the creatures at the bottom of the sea creating a massive tsunami that would destroy Puerto Rico.

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The tsunami eventually hits the East Coast, and, wouldn’t you know it? The final episodes pictures the main characters stuck in a church steeple as their entire city is flooded, leaving everyone and anyone open to attacks by the sea monsters. Of course, the series pretty much ended there, leaving a laundry list of questions for audiences. That is if you cared enough to want answers, after all. Would Miles have turned in to a dragon human hybrid? Were the sea monsters government genetic experiments that formed their own habitat? How would Miles’ relationship with Nimrod have saved his friends from becoming prey to the sea monsters?

While “Surface” definitely was an entertaining enough series, the characters and build up just weren’t interesting enough to warrant another season and the same fan outcry we experienced with “Farscape” or “Chuck.” The series also suffered a break in its momentum when NBC put it on hiatus for the Winter Olympics. All things considered, the writers seemed to write themselves in to a corner by the finale, seemingly finding no way to go but down.

And I imagine prospects for this new water logged world would have been expensive to produce for NBC. So it ends with the world becoming a complete ocean for monsters.

I’d love to have seen the series re-emerge in some form like a comic book or animated webisode series, but ten years later, that seems very unlikely. That said, “Surface” gets definite points for trying to garner its own audience with mysteries and dragons. It also introduced the world to Leighton Meester, so it was a victory in one way or another.

Leighton Meester. Hubba.

Leighton Meester. Hubba.