The first big change is the introduction of Eva Thorne (Frances Fisher), an all-purpose nemesis who takes over Global Dynamics (and so effectively the town) with a mandate to make the enterprise more profitable and business-efficient; her reputation has been one of bloodletting and ruthless realignment at Fortune 100 companies, and the Department of Defense, apparently seeing no difference between a genius factory and General Motors, has engaged her to do the same in Eureka.
From the show's structural standpoint, this means that a superfluity of Global Dynamics heads: the first season chief, Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn), and the season 2 head, Allison Blake (Salli Richardson), are both still on scene reporting to new boss Thorne. But the real problem is that Thorne is starting out solely as a device designed to create conflict within the cast – it all seems so artificial, especially the way she is choosing the favor some and glare at others.
Hints shown already make it clear that more is planned for Thorne, as she digs deeper into what's going on in Eureka, and before long she'll find a project to give her some continuity and purpose other than arbitrarily screwing around with what the other characters want. I'll reserve judgment for now, but I'm a little concerned that the introduction of such a character as a device signals a loss of subtlety for this very intelligent and wryly written show.
Also in terms of casting, the increased exposure of Zane (Niall Matter) this season will eliminate some of the genius-of-the-week feeling of the previous seasons – but while I generally like Zane I'm not sure this is a good thing. While the weekly genius thing made the villains more obvious, they also gave a real sense of depth to a community that is supposed to be very large: focusing more of a few regulars like Zane might shave that away.
By far the most upsetting change for season 3, though, is the deplorably heavy handed emphasis on PRODUCT PLACEMENT. Both episodes seen so far have spent time and dialog on pitching underarm deodorant, which is something I absolutely cannot stand in television drama. They're trying to be cutesy about it, making it a part of Thorne's push for corporate synergy, blah blah blah, but as far as I'm concerned it intrudes on and cheapens the show to a large and depressing degree. Perhaps they're taking their cue from 30 Rock, which had a few jokes last season about Snapple and Verizon placements, but the carefully crafted snarkiness of that show is one thing; here, it comes across as exactly what it is, blatant commercialization of drama by the corporate masters (who happen to be the same folks 30 Rock was skewering/going along with, NBC Universal).
It bugs me. I haven't been this upset about product placement since Smallville turned an entire episode into a gum commercial, and Eureka – which was at least a little more subtle with is Cisco placements last year – seems to be trending toward making the whole season an advertisement. That's what the spaces in between the segments of drama are for, folks. This movement in television has to be stopped.
Edit: mindslip with name of fictional company fixed.