First of all, let's address the show's title. La Brea, the new sci-fi adventure yarn available on HBO GO, is apparently named for the La Brea Tar Pits, a group of asphalt pools in a Los Angeles park that have been a huge source of fossils from the Ice Age (and thereabouts).
"La Brea" is also Spanish for "the tar", which kind of makes the name redundant ("the The Tar Tar Pits", which sounds more like a speech and dental issue than a prehistoric relic), and harks back to the hilariously named The La Trattoria from Hugh Grant's Mickey Blue Eyes.
Uh-huh. And to be honest, the going does get a little repetitive, tarry and bogged down at times, with the first three episodes of the show relying a lot on very familiar and/or cheesy situations to propel its story along.
To give the show credit, it opens with an eye-popping disaster sequence in which a huge sinkhole appears in Los Angeles, swallowing (among other things, the The Tar Tar PIts) buildings, roads, vehicles and people.
Among them: guilt-wracked mother Eve Harris (Natalie Zea), her teenage son Josh (Jack Martin), SEAL turned doctor Sam Velez (Chicago PD alumnus Jon Seda), Sam's daughter Riley (Veronica St Clair), troubled therapist Ty (Chike Okonkwo), and anthropology grad student Basil Exposition – sorry, Scott Israni (Rohan Mirchandaney).
Scott has a dual purpose for being there. First, he rapidly ascends through the ranks of The Swallowed to become arguably the most annoying character there.
Second, his field of study makes him an endless source of information on the La Brea Tar Pits and prehistoric life in general.
Why is this important? Because instead of being smeared across the bottom of the staggeringly deep chasm into which they fell, the abovementioned people and a dozen or so others went through a glowing green rift and woke up to find themselves in a prehistoric land.
A land which doesn't even have the courtesy to wait for nightfall to become full of terrors, since these unhappy campers get attacked by dire wolves within a few minutes of their arrival. (And just so you know, the remains of more than 3,600 dire wolves have been found at the The Tar... OK, I'll stop; at the La Brea Tar Pits.)
While these displaced persons attempt to deal with their scary new reality, the people left behind in LA have troubles of their own.
Sure, it's a massive disaster and (apparently) huge loss of life, not to mention the traffic re-routing havoc.
But also, Eve's husband, former test pilot Gavin (Eoin Macken), keeps having visions of his wife and son being alive somewhere because of something that happened to him in the Mojave Desert a few years earlier.
How these incidents are connected, how he goes about convincing disbelieving scientists (whose primary retort is "We deal in science, not science fiction!"), and how the series manages to mix even more soap opera suds into the proceedings with each passing episode are intercut with the missing folks' predicament.
All to heighten the suspense and keep us coming back, probably.
And it has to be said that the people behind La Brea do succeed at this in spite of all the stereotypes, overused perils and "OMG-are-they-that-clueless"-ness that fill the first three (of a planned 10) episodes.
Not out of any particularly outstanding quality on display, but mainly because quite a while has passed since we've been able to get (Land Of The) Lost in a TV show with such Primeval terrors and escapades.
Which will be perfect once they dial down the cheesiness and crank up the craziness of the whole scenario to approach the level of those opening 15 minutes. Deal?
New episodes of La Brea arrive every Wednesday on HBO GO/ Astro On Demand.
Sci-fi adventure yarn takes off pretty well but then seems content to just tarry on the ground.