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La Brea review: Sci-fi drama sinks into one of the year’s biggest stinkers






Viewers these days are spoiled. Thanks in no small part to the proliferation of streamers with pockets as deep as the Pacific Ocean, we’re drowning in quality TV.

In the last seven days alone, the list of brand new series and new episodes of ongoing series you could have picked from included Apple’s Black Bird, Netflix’s Better Call Saul and Paper Girls, and Disney’s Only Murders in the Building and Under the Banner of Heaven.

That’s just one week. What about the past month or the past year?

With so much really, really good television at our fingertips, it’s therapeutic to be reminded every now and again that somewhere out there in the vast television landscape, some people are still making really, really bad television.

Up to yesterday, I was convinced Harry Wild on RTÉ1 was the most awful drama series I’d seen this year. Then along came La Brea (Paramount+) to prove me wrong.

The title refers to the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, which is where a massive sinkhole suddenly opens, sucking in people, vehicles and whole buildings.

What opens up on your screen, however, is not a sinkhole but a stinkhole, down which you’ll encounter the most idiotic plotting, coupled with the dumbest dialogue ever to emerge from a human mouth.

Since the series was filmed in Australia rather than Los Angeles, a few of those mouths belong to local actors, who struggle to prevent their Aussie accents breaking free like Skippy the bush kangaroo jumping a fence.

We may be in the land Down Under, but the stars of La Brea are a standard issue American network TV family with perfect complexions and nuclear-white teeth. Teenage siblings Josh and Izzy (Jack Martin and Zyra Gorecki) are stuck in a traffic jam with their mother Eve (Natalie Zea), who looks about two years older than them.

The three are trading quips in that smart-arsey way real people never do when the ground suddenly opens. They jump out of the car and run. Josh goes back to help a fallen child and falls into the hole. Eve goes back to help Josh and falls into the hole.

Izzy goes back to help Eve, who hasn’t fallen far enough into the hole so that Izzy can’t grab her by the hand. “I love you!” Eve tells her, just before prising Issy’s fingers off her wrist and plummeting into a green-screen backdrop.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, Australia, Eve’s troubled husband Gavin is sitting in his car. He’s played by Irish actor Eoin Macken, who used to be in Fair City and therefore must know what being stuck in a hole feels like.

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Gavin is a pilot who crashed his plane in the desert a couple of years before and had to leave the US Air Force because he’s having visions of a strange land.

He also has a drink problem, but the kind of drink problem only found in Hollywood TV shows and movies. Gavin can take a few slugs from his hip flask and two minutes later have a job interview during which the interviewer, facing him from three feet away, doesn’t notice that his breath smells like a pub’s slop bucket.

Meanwhile, Eve and Josh wake up to find themselves in a place that looks uncannily like LA 10,000 years ago. That’s because, as the viewer will realise long before the characters do, it is LA 10,000 years ago.

The clue is in the prehistoric creatures (birds, wild dogs, sabre-toothed tigers) roaming the place. These are rendered with some of the cheapest-looking CGI I’ve ever seen. If the late stop-motion genius Ray Harryhausen had been blind in both eyes and missing a hand, he still would have made something that looks more convincing.

The script seems to have been written by people with short-term memory issues. On two occasions, when Eve and Josh come face-to-face with a beastie that wants to eat them, Eve says, “Don’t move!” — followed five seconds later by “Run!”

The other sinkhole survivors include a dodgy detective, a depressed psychiatrist, a macho doctor and a stoner dude.

Every two minutes, someone asks aloud “Where are we?” or “What happened?” or “What’s going on?”

Best of all is the short-sighted man who can’t find his glasses and says: “This is my worst nightmare.”

Wait, what? You’ve fallen down a big hole and landed in Jurassic Park and THIS is your worst nightmare?

Truly, madly, deeply atrocious.

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