"The Lost Room" is probably meant to be some kind of science-fiction metaphor for materialism or parenthood or the no-nos of motel management. But it feels like an insanely Byzantine adaptation of "Rock, Paper, Scissors." Before long in this sci-fi miniseries, you're trying to keep track of which magical objects have more power than the others, and feeling rather silly. Is the comb stronger than the clock? Can the radio beat the bus ticket? Is the pen mightier than the key?
The miniseries, which begins tonight at 9, is a tonally mixed-up disappointment. Peter Krause , in his first TV role since "Six Feet Under," plays a detective who is as bland as Krause's Nate Fisher was passionate. Detective Joe Miller gets sucked into the supernatural world of the room and its magical objects when he accidentally gains custody of the key. He learns he can use the key in any door to enter a motel room frozen in time since the 1960s. He learns there are bad guys after the key, along with all the other everyday objects that were once in the room.
He learns that each object has a unique power. Use the comb, and you'll freeze time for 10 seconds. Click that pen and you can microwave your friends. Find the right station on the radio and you can grow 3 inches taller. And he learns that the bad guys' goal is to bring the objects together to gain godlike powers, while there are good guys looking for the objects in order to protect mankind. But Joe doesn't learn enough, and he gets himself into big trouble. He enters the room with his daughter (Elle Fanning ) and she disappears. (Symbolism alert: Joe may be about to lose custody of his daughter to his ex-wife.) His trouble worsens as he has hostile encounters with other object holders, including the kook (Roger Bart ) who deploys the pen. It's all very serious, except that as he runs in and out of the room with people chasing him, the whole thing starts to feel like an Abbott & Costello movie set in a haunted house. Rock, Paper, Scissors, Comb, Clock, Key, Help!
Julianna Margulies is on hand as Joe's love interest, and she is also after the objects. Like Krause, Margulies doesn't seem entirely present in her performance, and she, too, seems unsure of the tone of the miniseries, which continues through Wednesday. "The Lost Room," has mystery, suspense, and laughs -- both intentional and unintentional.