Late to the Party: Should I Be Watching NBC's Siberia?
Aug 12 2013 12:04 pm CET is proud to welcome Aaron Mucciolo to the fold with the new review series Late to the Party. In this installment, Mooch weighs in on whether or not you should catch up with NBC's faux reality TV drama Siberia.

The other day I almost posted the status "The third episode of Siberia really nailed it!", but then I watched the fourth episode. That's not me saying the fourth episode was a major step back (it was not: my favorite character/actress/facial expression Natalie continued to delight and there were a couple well-laid-in plot points) but rather a comment on the manner in which I've been watching Siberia, a manner that can best be labeled "irregular binging" or "not how the network hoped anyone would consume their product." (Note: "Irregular binging" is also not how most restaurants would prefer people consumed their products. The illicit narcotic industry association is still studying the matter.)

I entered Siberia, like countless others alongside me, by clicking on the Hulu teaser image for the preview episode. I dug the fake-show concept (loved it, really), made up my own guessing game about which actor/characters were plants, got mildly disappointed when bits of plot necessity showed some small cracks in otherwise wonderfully natural performances, and thought "okay cool, we'll see where this goes." I could have sworn I placed it into my favorites, but according to The Queue three weeks later, apparently I did not. So I added episodes 2-4, watched the second episode, which was good but had a few too many false notes (Druuuuugs are bad! I give Victoria some credit, though; I think the edits and camera stagings did her no favors) canceling out the really nice moments. Then I got distracted by three days of beautiful weather before putting episode three on in the background.

And then I watched episode four, and then episode five came on, and then the other night I had hilariously off-kilter dreams mashing up Siberia and Hawaii Five-O (Which I do not watch, so maybe I just have Scott Caan on the brain. Which sounds like a bad band name or a worse party game.) and an aircraft carrier. But I digress. The point is I sort of stumbled through watching the first five episodes of a series I could just as easily have never started watching at all, and it's a series I'm rather enjoying.

The concept isn't earth shaking – Blair Witch meets Survivor is a fair if not fully robust description. It's well-conceived, typically well-paced, and generally well-produced, well-delivered fluff. Did they decide to make the blood in episode one look fake because they were worried people would find the show too realistic? Listen, producers of America, suck it up and don't undermine your shows. There is a segment of the viewing public who apparently thought Whodunnit? was actually killing their contestants. You cannot win, so stop tripping yourselves up while you lose faith in humanity.

You care about the characters mostly because they are not off-putting; also, some are very pretty. There are no real surprises in the plot twists, but there are still twists and reveals and, again, well-executed ones. As a student of semi-improvised performances of all sorts, and an enjoyer of good genre works, I'm especially liking the way so many scenes play very reality-TV-naturally, hearing dialogue that (mostly) sounds like it comes from real people, and waiting to see what interesting twist the “producers” in the show within the show (layers... onions... you know what, just watch it and this'll make sense) toss at their “contestants.” I would hazard a guess that the oral history of this show would include the statement “So and so auditioned really well, and seemed like such a great fit – but two weeks into filming it just wasn't working. Unfortunately, you can't recast a show like this and reshoot anything...” About the only thing that's not on par with the rest is the horror element – and that gets an excellent boost late in episode five.

If there were a full week between episodes then it's quite possible the occasional clunker of a scene, rough inclusion of a plot point (Lesbians? Lesbians!) or false line delivery might have been enough to make me forget the show existed. Don't let yourself be similarly hypothetically denied a trip to the frozen tundra – power through the first three episodes and know that the two after it maintain an even keel of quality.

Beyond that? I'll let you know in a couple of months after I remember there are more episodes to watch.

P.S. Does anyone know how much of the show is scripted and how much is semi-scripted? It feels largely like the latter, and well done at that, but if that's the case then the writers need to resist the urge to make the characters explain their Clever Plans when we've just seen said plan fall neatly into place. The exception being Johnny, because explaining a Straightforward Plan before and after it falls neatly into place is an effective character note for that one. And Miljan, because secretly crazy people with accents can do whatever they want.

Aaron Mucciolo –

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