If yet another “Men in Black”-style, “Things that go bump in the night are real” drama sounds right up your dark alley, then “Sanctuary” is perhaps for you. Otherwise, there’s little to recommend this dense drama, which recycles a number of familiar sci-fi tropes, as a mysterious woman leads a shadowy group in policing the wilds of the paranormal. Although the heroine introduces herself as “someone who’s chosen to embrace the full spectrum of our reality,” the competent but uninspiring two-hour pilot doesn’t deliver the kind of thrills destined to rock anyone else’s world.
The opener slowly pulls back the curtain on Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), who is both protector of and guardian against strange creatures secretly occupying the shadows. Most of this introduction is seen through the eyes of forensic psychiatrist Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), who encounters a young boy with a protruding tentacle that has a bad habit of puncturing people’s skulls. This is a kid who really gives his victims the finger.Although he appears to stumble onto this case, Zimmerman has personal experience with unusual phenomena and is recruited to join Magnus and her spandex-clad, butt-kicking hottie daughter Ashley (Danish import Emilie Ullerup) and a few other assorted colorful aides.
Normally, dangerous women in form-fitting outfits right out of “The Matrix” aren’t a bad idea for a show that yearns to attract young guys, and the premiere incorporates a sinister villain (Christopher Heyerdahl) who clearly has insight into Magnus’ past.
Yet beyond what the network is touting as “never-before-seen production technology” — essentially, using a greenscreen and virtual sets, which frankly doesn’t sound that groundbreaking — “Sanctuary” suffers by comparison with any number of similarly themed dramas, most recently BBC America’s fun-loving “Torchwood.” The show also tosses in a last-act revelation about Magnus’ past that feels gratuitous.
Created by Damian Kindler (“Stargate SG-1,” a credit he shares with Tapping), “Sanctuary” also bears a modest resemblance to Sci Fi’s youth-oriented “Dr. Who” spinoff “The Sarah Jane Adventures.” And while the concept does lend itself to a monster-of-the-week procedural format, it’s hard to imagine this series doing much more than satisfying some of the odd humanoids still pining for (and emailing on behalf of) “Stargate.”
Some visuals effects in the screener were incomplete, and who knows, maybe the CGI-on-a-TV-budget look will add a gee-whiz element that the concept and characters otherwise lack. As is, though, that’s a pretty weak sales pitch, and even the best greenscreen tricks seem unlikely to make “Sanctuary” a place where discerning sci-fi fans will flock to take refuge.