Salvation. CBS. Wednesday, July 12, 9 p.m.
In one of the first scenes of Salvation, an astrophysicist whose giant hydrocephalic brain is second only to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to explain to a bunch of dumb-cluck MIT students and professors that a meteor could hit the earth like at any second because even a cyclopean intelligence like his own doesn't know where every single meteor is all the time. "There have been at least five mass-extinction events in the last few hundred million years, people!" he shouts into the glassy-eyed faces of the bovine MIT fools. "Five!"
What's interesting about this—and, honestly, just about the only thing interesting about Salvation—is the show's conceit that Americans would be dumbfounded at the suggestion of a meteor striking the Earth. Tales of planetary fender-benders have been sci-fi bestsellers since a couple of rogue planets came our way in 1933's When Worlds Collide. (Spoiler alert: there was a sequel called After Worlds Collide.)
Hollywood alone has generated at least a dozen pictures in which inauspicious encounters with random space crap have variously left Earth battered by quakes and tidal waves (1998's Deep Impact), under attack by homicidal vending machines (1986's Maximum Overdrive), being devoured by hungry plants (1963's Day Of The Triffids), or besieged by zombies who can be vanquished only by locked-and-loaded Valley Girls (1984's Night Of The Comet). In the most terrifying of all, 1958's The Blob, a puddle of meteorite gloop threatened to destroy Burt Bacharach's career before it even began.
That gloop would be a towering dramatic presence if it came crashing into Salvation, the latest and least summer popcorn series from CBS. Insufficiently inane to be funny, way too sloppy and foolish to qualify as tense, it's a grimmest foretelling ever of the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper, just a strangling snore.
As usual in big-bang apocalypse tales, a lone scientist—in this case a nerdy MIT grad student named Liam Cole who's mapping the entire universe so people will stop running out of gas on their way to Ursa Minor—blunders onto the track of a meteor hot-rodding its way in from Jupiter, six months off.
Cole is reluctant to get involved with a lot of save-the-world-and-whatnot because he doesn't want to be distracted from porking this smoking little sci-fi writer chick he recently picked up (Jacqueline Byers, Roadie). Nerdporn, by the way, is quite common in Salvation, with hot girls constantly flopping down to be ravished, their heads spinning—whether in lustful ardor or despair that the human race is worth saving, I could never quite tell—at pickup lines like, "When two celestial bodies cross paths, it can change their trajectories forever."
Eventually, though, Cole teams with astrophysicist-tech zillionaire Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera, Big Little Lies), a Randian madman who believes the entire human race can be reconstituted from 160 survivors of the impending collision. They, naturally, will escape in rockets manufactured by one of his companies at a very reasonable price.
Their chief adversary is slithery Department of Defense official Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale, Hawaii Five-O), whose bearing suggests a credibility unseen in military affairs since Saddam Hussein's spokesman Comical Ali was doing daily briefings in Baghdad. Wavering someplace between the two sides is Grace Barrows, a Pentagon press spokesman who would really love to help keep the Earth from being blasted into space confetti, you know, but it's just so exhausting being a single mom and all.
It seems the Defense Department has known all along about the meteor. And even though all its rockets keep blowing up on their launching pads, the Pentagon won't be deterred from its plan of shooting a transmogrifier—I mean, gravity tractor—at the asteroid to modify its path and send it into Zsa Zsa Gabor's orbit.
Counters Tanz: "We're not going to wait for the government to save us! We're going to save ourselves!" Well, at least 160 of ourselves.
In short, Salvation strongly resembles recent congressional budget debates, punctuated by occasional kidnappings, car chases and gunplay by an unidentified gang of thugs that apparently wants the world to end. Finally, the Nihilism Lobby gets its own show.