Here's an investment tip: buy into bottled water companies today. Their stock is bound to soar -- and their sales are poised to skyrocket -- in the wake of this taut vidpic thriller about what happens to a town ravaged by a microscopic (and deadly) parasite contaminating its water supply.

Here’s an investment tip: buy into bottled water companies today. Their stock is bound to soar — and their sales are poised to skyrocket — in the wake of this taut vidpic thriller about what happens to a town ravaged by a microscopic (and deadly) parasite contaminating its water supply. What makes the story particularly compelling is that it’s not entirely fictional. It could happen here. It’s already happened elsewhere. That’s why we should all think twice before again visiting the gym water cooler.

Thank you, NBC, for helping spread the parasite paranoia around.

Though the execution borders on the overheated, a la “Outbreak,” “Thirst” lays a frightful scenario that feels a tad too convincing. John Mandel’s teleplay drives home the point that we’re all only a waterborne microbe away from medical and social Armageddon, and Bill Norton’s unsubtle direction is marked by ominous lingering shots on brown gunky water that are designed to chill the spine. We have met the enemy, and it is the kitchen tap.

Only on TV can a water filtration engineer become a hero. That’s the profession of Adam Arkin’s character Bob Miller, a small leap from his Dr. Aaron Shutt character on “Chicago Hope.” Miller, a model hubby (to wife Susan, played by Joely Fisher) and daddy (Jimmy Galeota) is the guy who gets the bright idea to test the water supply after people start falling ill with what appears to be food poisoning in their comfy little suburb of San Paulo.

Turns out that the town reservoir is failing to filter out deadly Cryptosporidia bacteria, beasties that burrow into your intestine, cause severe fever and, in extreme cases, death from thirst and dehydration. It’s a real problem: 400,000 residents of Milwaukee got sick and six died due to the presence of Cryptosporidia in the water supply. It is also said to have killed 39 people in Las Vegas in 1994.

The announcement of the infestation (by a strain that is immune even to boiling) sets off panic-buying, a town quarantine, overrun hospitals and, finally, rioting. It doesn’t help that there’s a record summertime heat wave.

Too much of “Thirst” is driven by backroom political theatrics –you know, the vein-popping-in-the-neck power trips and melodramatic pronouncements like, “Get that stuff out of my water!”. But Arkin gives his usual solid performance, he has effective chemistry with Fisher and Giancarlo Esposito supplies sharp support as a doctor pulling out all the stops to find an answer.

The subject matter alone, however, is sufficient to maintain interest. All scribe Mandel had to do was not screw up the premise and make it too preposterous, and he doesn’t. The result is, instead, wholly unsettling. Old warning: when in Mexico, don’t drink the water. New warning: When in America…

Tech credits are first rate.

Thirst

NBC, Sun. Oct. 25, 9-11 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Citadel Entertainment LLC in association with the Kaufman Co. Executive producer, Paul A. Kaufman; producer, Anthony Santa Croce; director, Bill Norton; writer, John Mandel.

Crew

Production designer, Dan Lomino; camera, Paul Maibaum; editor, Hibah Frisina; music, Daniel Licht; sound, Ken Willingham, Ken Segal; casting, Beth Hymson-Ayer, Simon Ayer

Cast

Bob Miller - Adam Arkin Susan Miller - Joely Fisher Dr. Carver - Giancarlo Esposito Lou Wolford - Ken Jenkins Allison - Phyllis Lyons Andy - Michael Cudlitz Bobby, Jr - Jimmy Galeota Mayor Harold Warren - Casey Biggs Mrs. Bell - Viola Cates Stimpson Dr. Kennedy - Robin Dearden With: Nancy Bell, Paul Linke, William Forward, Jeanne Hartman, Tomas Mills, Jim Meskiman
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