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TELEVISION REVIEW

Storage for the creepy and quirky: ‘Warehouse 13’

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / July 7, 2009
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Today is the day that SciFi becomes SyFy. The cable network, home to space shows and paranormal comedy-dramas, is getting a new name that’s basically the same as the old name, if you close your eyes and don’t think too hard.

Today is also the day that SciFi - sorry, SyFy - launches “Warehouse 13,’’ a new series that feels quite a bit like an old series, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The old series is “The X Files,’’ the seminal 1990s drama about what happens when law enforcement meets the unexplainable. “Warehouse 13’’ replaces FBI spooks with Secret Service agents and abandons aliens for a different threat: a cache of objects with mysterious and dangerous powers, ranging from Houdini’s wallet to Lucretia Borgia’s comb. The government, we’re told, has been collecting them since 1898 in a sprawling secret warehouse in the South Dakota Badlands. The truth is in there.

The series begins with two agents dispatched on a supersecret mission: to hunt down errant objects and store them safely on a dusty Warehouse 13 shelf. In a page from the “X Files’’ casting handbook, we get a male-female pairing, intuitive versus science-driven, both highly attractive. The believer is Pete Lattimer, (Eddie McClintock) a sarcastic bad boy known for breaking rules and going with his dependable gut. The skeptic is Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), a rising star known for her swift kicks and attention to detail.

Their chemistry is decent, and their crime-fighting skills complement each other nicely enough. In tonight’s episode, Bering notices, to useful effect, that a suspect has alphabetized the books on his shelf, while Lattimer gets a weird feeling that the guy might have immolated himself at a gas station.

But the real stars of “Warehouse 13,’’ as far as imagination goes, are the warehouse and its quirky curator, Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek), who travels through vast rows of shelves on a speedy zipline and uses an old-fashioned typewriter keyboard to plunk on his modern computer. When the agents are in the field, he communicates with them through a clunky-looking videophone, James Bond by way of period-era Sherlock Holmes.

This show is a production designer’s dream, and as such, it can be playful fun; the best moments are delivered with winks and a hint of “Ghostbusters’’ glee. A football, hurled in the air outside the warehouse, takes an unusually long time to come back down. The agents neutralize the objects’ evil powers with a tub of purple goo. The fabulous CCH Pounder, fresh from her no-nonsense turn on “The Shield,’’ appears as the mysterious Mrs. Frederic, a powerful federal official who oversees the warehouse and doesn’t seem to age.

It’s light stuff, mostly, with an occasional undercurrent of seriousness, largely centering around a tragedy at Myka’s previous assignment. After an object from a Warehouse 13 shelf falls into her bag, a figure from her past starts to appear to her in dreams. A few of those moments are gasp-worthy spooky, a sign that this series has promise.

But the quirkiness overtakes the creepiness by far, and here’s where “Warehouse 13’’ faces its biggest challenge: There’s a fine line between wink-wink clever and desperately cheesy. Tonight’s story crosses into Kraft Singles territory more often than it should, with bleeding statues and bloodshot eyes, sacrificial fires and some poorly acted demonic possession. Rubinek vamps hard for comic effect, perhaps a little too hard. Pounder does far better, in her brief onscreen moments, being funny and sinister at once. A little more of her alchemy, and “Warehouse 13’’ would be closer to out-of-this-world.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to www.viewerdiscretion.net

WAREHOUSE 13 When: Premieres tonight at 9

On: SyFy

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