I'm not much of an outdoor kid, so when it comes to summer, the things I look forward to most are the big, dumb movies and the trashtastic TV shows. Some of these guilty pleasures are better than others, but come fall, most seem like bizarre heatstroke-induced dreams. ABC's The Gates was one of those "Did this actually happen?" series, although I'll admit a begrudging fondness for the supernatural mystery. Yeah, vampires, werewolves, and witches had already been done to death last summer, but how many other shows had a succubus as a recurring character?
In rewatching episodes of The Gates, I've discovered that it's, well, pretty much what I remember it to be. There were good moments and well-earned twists, but like so many series before it, The Gates collapsed under the weight of its own mythology. The set-up of supernatural beings living in a gated community is a fine starting point-if only the writers had shown a little more restraint. It's tempting to add complexity to a story, the way great genre series like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer did. (Not that those didn't eventually go overboard, too.) Unfortunately The Gates tried to get way too much done in its first (and last) 13 episodes.
I blame True Blood, and this is coming from someone who actually enjoys Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse book series. Or, you know, used to. Over time, Sookie's world has become too convoluted, with every mystical creature you can imagine making an appearance. I understand the temptation to step things up past the now-cliché human-vampire romance, but there's a difference between complex and confounding. I've lost interest in Sookie's world since it became overrun with faeries and other fey beings, and I can only imagine what nutty creatures would have been added to The Gates' roster if the series had continued into a second season.
Still, I couldn't get past the weirdly nostalgic feelings I had for this show, and revisiting it did at least help me pinpoint what The Gates did right. I dug Chandra West as Devon, the witch who eventually became the series' central villain. Once she was given a bit of motivation and some (admittedly vague) goals, I was ready to watch her wreak havoc on a havoc-prone community. But I'm not convinced the show began with the knowledge that Devon was the Big Bad. Either that, or The Gates was so obsessed with moral ambiguity that it purposely blurred the sides of good and evil. Yeah, it's best when things aren't all black and white, but at least give your audience some sense of where it's all going.
Vampire Claire (Rhona Mitra) was a better example of ambiguity from the get-go: she began the series draining some poor passerby but soon emerged as one of the white hats. Well, kind of. I'll admit a bias for Mitra, because she picks a lot of silly genre roles-be sure to check her out in Doomsday and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans!-but Claire was multifaceted in a way that didn't feel forced. She was mostly good, with the occasional hunger-induced slip-up. What a pleasant reminder that vampires don't have to be tortured souls all the time!
The Gates ended on a cliffhanger, like all the most misguided single-season shows. I can't fault the series for its ambition, though I do wish there had been some pay-off. For those who don't remember exactly what went down (how quickly we forget!), Charlie kissed his succubus girlfriend Andie and ended up mostly dead. Devon agreed to use her powers to bring him back, without explaining that the new Charlie would be zombified and scary. To be continued! The end!
And then it was never heard from again. What fascinates me about a show like The Gates is that it spends 13 episodes building its own universe, complete with character backstories and a unique set of supernatural rules. And then it ends abruptly, with barely a passing mention from ABC. Where does all the mythology go? I'm not exactly mourning its loss, but for some reason, I do feel a little sad thinking about what could have been. There was a world here to explore-and maybe it wasn't a very good one, but it couldn't have been any worse than Stephenie Meyer's Forks, Washington.
Full confession: I also really wanted to see more of the adorable Travis Caldwell in his reanimated state. Bruce LaBruce movies aside, when was the last time you saw a legitimately cute zombie? Now there's something (if you'll pardon the irony) fresh.