Pioneer! O Pioneer!

Last week I mentioned Pioneer One in MK 13 of Wins and Fails This Week in Geek. I decided this week to discuss it a bit further.

Let me preface this by stating in the interest of full disclosure that I have not been sober for a single episode of Pioneer One. Before you invite me to a 12 Step group, in my defense, there have only been two episodes.

As a result, I’m attempting to review the series based on fractured memories of moments in plot and impressions that the characters, writing and actual production have left behind. And in a way, that’s precisely the treatment this low-budget bonanza deserves – in a positive sense; Pioneer One is not (yet) the sort of show you should dissect in grand detail or with any particular precision, because it won’t hold up to that much scrutiny. It will, however, hold your attention and keep you entertained.

Before I jump into a recap of the plot thus far, let me explain a little about the actual nature of Pioneer One. Pioneer One is a publicly-funded project, depending on donations to continue production. If you enjoy the show, you’re encouraged to donate to help them meet their goals for each episode. They are, at the time of this post, sitting at $9494 of a $20,000 goal for episode 2. They hope to achieve $40,000 for episode 3.

Pioneer One is available to view free via digital download (torrent, to be precise). If viewers are inspired by what they see, they can donate predetermined amounts in exchange for goodies. $5 earns you the Pioneer One theme song and access to the Pioneer One Studio (behind-the-scenes footage). $10 earns you all of the aforementioned plus a commentary track and one month of BTGuard. And so forth, all the way up to an optimistic $2000 donation, for which you become an executive producer on future episodes (and get a nifty producer jacket).

Some people are claiming this method is the future of television. Given they haven’t met their goal for episode 2 yet, and episode 2 has been out quite a while, I remain skeptical. Then again, it may be merely a lack of exposure that’s causing the sluggishness in donations. If more people knew about Pioneer One donations might come pouring in. They claim an audience of millions, but maybe it’ll take a million more. After all, far worse SciFi shows have gotten far more publicity and season after season of air time.

Down to the nitty gritty. In my opinion, Pioneer One is a good show. Not an outstanding show, but a good show. It has an intriguing plot that keeps you glued to your monitor’s screen. It has, for the most part, solid acting. It has decent writing. And it has acceptable production value for its incredibly meager budget.

What it also has is the occasional confounding twist, sometimes unconvincing and pointless side stories and a heap of throw-away characters. It’s these pitfalls that, to me, keep it from being a great show, but the good news is there’s room for improvement. I don’t think Pioneer One is done growing yet. I believe that it has the potential to achieve great things. If Pioneer One is the television equivalent of a new kindergarten student I am its hopeful teacher, already stamping its work with silver stars but holding the gold stars in reserve.

Evidently there are those who feel Pioneer One‘s pretty stellar as is. The 2010 NY Television Festival awarded it Best Drama. I’ve never heard of the NY Television Festival, but I’m not in the industry. Hell, I’m not even in the know.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

Episode one introduces you to the main characters, some of which you will forget – even sober – exist by episode two. This produces something of a goldfish effect for the viewers, which is amusing in and of itself. Well, at least a little.

Episode one also sets up the plot, as first episodes are wont to do. Something has fallen from space and splattered radiation across most of Montana before invading, and eventually crashing, in Canada. Because it involves two countries, a tense dual-nation investigation ensues. It’s led by an unprepared Department of Homeland Security investigator and a small team of cronies who are mostly forgettable. One of them appears to be emo. By the end of episode one we’ve discovered that the space junk actually contains a human being, a Russian one, who’s riddled with cancer. Everybody speculates that he’s from Mars. It ends with the addition of a whining, pudgy scientist who makes you wish they’d hired Wallace Shawn to reprise the role of Vizzini, cackling like a maniac and spraying the camera with spittle when he says “inconceivable”. Because there is a definite teasing touch of Vizzini in our new scientist friend.

Episode two advances the tale of largely unexplained tension between Canada and the United States. There is an intensely annoying higher-up in Homeland Security who places frequent and quite frankly abusive calls to his Canada-bound team. Abusive in the sense that it abuses the audience to have to put up with him, especially since he can’t seem to stick with a single accent from scene to scene. A Canadian military liaison periodically pokes his head in the door to deliver wholly unbelievable lines. The emo investigator complains. The scientist almost fulfills his promise by saying the word “conceivable”. The lead investigator eats a cheeseburger while apologizing to Vizzini for accusing him of something the viewers suspected he’d do at any moment, but didn’t, because it was actually a different fat scientist to blame. The investigator mumbles “my bad” between giant noms. The ailing Russian finally wakes up, and everybody gasps. Including me, since I’m being honest.

But for all the snark in the preceding two paragraphs, there is much merit in both episodes. The acting is genuine and passionate. The actors really give it their best shot, and you can tell they believe in the project and in every word they speak. The plot, while once in a while veering off the road in a chaotic and unnecessary manner, is engaging as hell. The writers, like the actors, clearly put 110% of themselves into each page, producing some very good dialogue in the process. The camera occasionally bounces around distractingly, but otherwise the quality of production is far better than what you would expect from a brand new show having to stretch every dollar very thinly.

Overall, Pioneer One is well worth the time it takes to download and watch it. And with only two episodes out, it’s easy for newcomers to catch up. In fact, I’d go so far as to say download it, watch it and plan on donating, because it’s worth every penny of your $5 – $2000. I’ve literally put my money where my mouth is (or in this case, fingers); I made a contribution. So I know it was worth every penny of mine.

You can find out more about Pioneer One and grab the torrents for both episodes here.

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