SciFi’s “Charlie Jade” preview

charliejadeWe all have a special love or two we wish we could share with the world. Sometimes, the world isn’t interested and no matter how many times you tell your wife that BSG is the greatest show in the history of shows, she leaves the room muttering about killer space robots. Sometimes, the world finally decides to listen to you just when Britney Spears shows up and ruins everything. Sometimes, your special love comes from another world and can’t be shared (legally) with anyone. The unaired pilot of Global Frequency is one of those special loves for me. Charlie Jade is another.

Starting Friday, June 6, Charlie Jade won’t be my little secret anymore. Taking over the 8pm slot on the SciFi channel from The Sarah Jane Adventures, this hidden gem of a show will finally get the American showing it deserves.

A Canadian-South African co-production from 2005, Charlie Jade tells the story of its titular hero and his efforts to get home. While investigating the murder of a girl with no identity, Charlie is caught in the blast radius of an experiment gone awry. In the experiment, Vex-Cor is attempting to open a permanent link to a parallel universe. When terrorists from that universe – an idyllic, lush paradise – set off an explosion at their terminus of the link, a chain reaction is set off across three worlds. All three facilities are destroyed, and Charlie finds himself transported from his home to ours.

Wait. Let me back up.

Charlie lives in Cape City in Alphaverse. A dystopian near-future that should look familiar to any fan of sci-fi, Cape City is the home of Vex-Cor, the most powerful of the five corporations that rule the world. In this world of rigid class stratification, identity implants, and near-constant surveillance, there are no John Does. So when a girl with no identity dies, Charlie wants answers. Even if those answers lead to 01 Boxer, son of Vex-Cor founder Bryon Boxer. But Charlie gets more questions than answers.

So do we.

Beyond the obvious, one thing that immediately stands out is the cinematic quality of the show. This doesn’t shock us much in 2008, accustomed as we are to BSG and Heroes and even Friday Night Lights, but it truly is rare to see such effort and care go into the look of a television show. Especially a genre show not heavy on SFX. From the start, we see the distinct palettes of the three universes: Alphaverse with its sickly greenish/brown cast; Betaverse very much the world we know, with ever so slight blue overtones; and Gammaverse in all its over-saturated, tropical glory. This Heaven looks like Hawaii, this Hell like Shanghai in the rain. It is remarkable that the creators were able to film Cape Town and its environs with such variety.

The cinematography is paired with excellent plotting and character work from the writing staff (actually two staffs, which we’ll get to in a moment) and the cast is excellent from top to bottom. The cast consists primarily of American and Canadian performers, so many of the actors will be familiar. As Charlie, Jeffrey Pierce (The Nine, Journeyman, Life) grounds the show with his cynical, world-weary performance. His Charlie has seen so much, he has little time for shock or surprise when he finds himself so far from home. By the second episode, this flawed and reluctant hero will have slipped back into his role of private investigator. This time, the missing person is himself.

To get back home, Charlie must find 01 Boxer, played by Michael Filipowich (Earth: Final Conflict, CSI: Miami.) 01 is a sociopathic, self-indulgent deviant, and while Filipowich’s performance may at first seem over the top, through the course of the series its subtleties slowly become apparent. Charlie’s pursuit of 01 leads inexorably to Vex-Cor, in which he is aided by conspiracy theorist Karl Lubinsky, played by Tyrone Benskin (300, The Dead Zone.) An American expat living in Cape Town, Karl pursues unexplained phenomena, many of which feature Vex-Cor at their heart. When he begins to learn the truth, it shocks even him.

Having seen Alphaverse and Betaverse, it might not be obvious why Charlie would want to go back home, but for the one he left behind. Jasmine, a radiant Marie-Julie Rivest (300, I’m Not There,) is his Penelope, calling him home across treacherous waters. Matters may be complicated by Jasmine’s Betaverse doppelganger Paula, however.

I’d touched on there being two writing staffs above, so let me explain. Midway through the run, mutual creative differences led to a parting of ways. A new staff of writers, led by Alex Epstein, took over from episode nine on. That’s a pretty tough thing to do and do well, but they managed to pull it off. Tonally, the show remained the same. A few threads were dropped, but only one of them would be a real puzzler. In Epstein’s words:

We had to do a huge retcon on Charlie Jade when we landed in Cape Town because the prior writing team either hadn’t made any story plans, and were still trying to figure out where to take the story, or they had made plans but hadn’t told anyone; and our showrunner was very open to new ideas. So we had to look at 8 episodes and figure out, “If this all made sense, what sense would it make?” I think we came up with some interesting stuff.

For fans of the mysterious and puzzling, Charlie Jade is a summer godsend. Moody, mysterious, filled with more questions than answers, this show should sate the cravings of people missing Lost, impatiently waiting for BSG to return (there are only four episodes left until the long, painful break,) or reawakened by the return of Mulder and Scully to the big screen for just two, short hours.

R.A. Porter is an aspiring television writer who currently toils away in the software mines. He can be found at his personal blog and stalked on Twitter.