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Hurry Up and Catch It

For those of you in a hurry -- say, because you're involved in an illegal cross-country road race with $32 million at stake, and you need to burn rubber to your next checkpoint, or face a sinister penalty -- here's a two-word review of Fox's new series Drive: Watch it.

From three-time Fox victim Tim Minear, veteran of such excellent short-run DVD box sets as Firefly, Wonderfalls, and hopefully The Inside, at some point, and unsuspecting newcomer Ben Queen, Drive is pretty much everything you could want from a weekly hybrid of Lost and Cannonball Run -- or, for the baggy-pants and angst-rock set, The Fast and the Furious. It blends the compelling characters and solid acting of Lost with the fun, fast-paced intrigue of Heroes. Then it adds a bunch of really cool-looking cars (and, OK, a minivan and a Taurus) going impressively fast in a highly exciting fashion. What's not to love?

Big Damn Hero Nathan Fillion, best known as Captain Mal Reynolds from Minear and Joss Whedon's Firefly, keeps a steady hand on the series' steering wheel as Alex Tully, a nice guy with a nasty past and a desperate need to find his kidnapped wife. Watching him rediscover his long-suppressed inner badass is genuinely awesome -- and more than a little bit scary. Kristin Lehman is also good, if somewhat eclipsed in the awesomeness department, as his uneasy partner, a woman with a well-justified grudge against the mysterious people controlling the race.

The core cast of racers -- 42 teams in all, six of whom we've seen thus far, five of whom seem to be the regulars -- are an interesting and highly watchable bunch. They include a terminally ill astrophysicist and his unsuspecting teen daughter; a pair of Katrina refugees (the only really underdeveloped characters in the first three hours); a twitchy new mom who's abandoned her infant son to flee from her abusive husband; an AWOL soldier and his preposterously hot wife (who is anything but underdeveloped); and a thuggish ex-con, paired up with the affluent, surprisingly gutsy half-brother he's only just met.

Peter Jackson vet Melanie Lynskey's particularly good as the minivan-driving mom, lending both sweetness and shadow to a character who seems to have scary, unplumbed depths. Dylan Baker and Emma Stone are also superb and charming as the father and daughter; it's unfortunate, given Baker's guest-star status and his character's condition, that he doesn't seem likely to stick around for the long haul (assuming the series gets one).

Heck, even the minor, one-off characters are a treat. Minear and Queen smartly pack just about every speaking role with top-flight actors, including Wonderfalls alum Katie Finneran as Fillion's sister, Kingpin star Yancey Arias, Paul Ben-Victor, Amy Acker as Fillion's kidnapped wife, and the wonderful Richard Brooks -- Firefly's indelibly creepy Jubal Early -- as the cop tracking Fillion.

As befits a racing-themed series, the story keeps moving at an enjoyable clip, smoothly shifting gears from one storyline to the next, and adding in enough bumps and sudden twists to keep things interesting. The series' first three hours have built a real sense of narrative momentum, dropping clever hints that the folks controlling the race may have their own stakes riding on its outcome, and are intervening to help specific drivers win, lose -- or die. It's a great premise, and with Minear and Queen ably behind the wheel, it shows no signs of running out of gas just yet.

Here's hoping Drive gets to cross any sort of finish line, since ratings for the premiere seemed a bit lacking in horsepower. Of all of Minear's series to date, this one seems like it should have the best chance of success. It's got the everyday characters, easily followed storylines, and fast-drivin' action your typical Red Stater should love, with enough sly wit, self-aware flourishes, and character development to ensnare the average Blue Stater. It's not the sharpest thing Minear's ever written, and it's certainly no Deadwood or Battlestar Galactica. But it's wry enough to have characters deliver a hokey moral-of-the-episode speech -- then berate themselves for saying something so incredibly corny.

So drivers, here's your next checkpoint: Your couch, next Monday at 8 p.m., with the channel tuned to Fox. If you don't show up, Drive might get eliminated -- and you'll miss your chance to enjoy what could be the next buzzworthy, immensely fun TV show.

Need catching up? Brave the sordid, pothole-ridden, hillbilly-infested highways of MySpace to see previous episodes in their entirety.


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