Is it perverse that sometimes I get a bit more pleasure from an well-intentioned underperformer finding its feet than from a show that's great to begin with?
I was the one who was tickled when Flash Gordon improved enough to become almost watchable. I rooted for Grimm when it hadn't finished baking yet, even as Once Upon a Time steamed ahead in the fairy tale race, clean and confident.
A Slow Start, But Not Inauspicious
Don't get me wrong -- I wish all our sci-fi/fantasy shows were smart, funny, moving, heartbreaking, and redeeming. We're fortunate to get every gift like that. But there's also a voice in my head that smiles wanly when we get that gift, sighing the sense of past experience: that behind every brilliant premiere and rock-solid freshman year lurks, like the obnoxious friends of your new best buddy, the aimless wanderings of mid-to-late Smallville or the bleak doldrums of Battlestar Galactica season 3. But a show that wants to succeed, tries, tries harder, and then starts to actually come together is an altogether different kind of blessing.
Haven was never bad. It's always been a well-written, strongly directed show, beautifully shot and graced with perfectly fine CGI. From day one the three leads -- Emily Rose as Audrey, Lucas Bryant as Nathan, and Eric Balfour as Duke -- have shouldered the plot with the verve and polish of adept professionals, and a steady string of Canadian character actors did the rest.
But it took a long time for it to feel like Haven to feel like it was about something. It was too easy for the Troubles -- the strange recurring phenomenon that falls on the town of Haven, Maine every couple of decades, like locusts, bringing to the surface in its residents (serially, it seems, at weekly intervals) a panoply strange, often uncontrollable abilities -- to slide into the "freak of the week" formula, as if the little hamlet had been subjected to a Smallville-esque meteor shower.
A Concentrating Cyclone
By now, though, with the season 3 premiere (imaginatively named "301," written by the show's creators Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn and premiering Sep. 21 on Syfy), Haven has not only become more focused, but that focus has been harnessed in the development of the relationship among the three protagonists and between them and the town. Haven doesn't just feature the Weekly Trouble and the resulting drama; it's about the Troubles. It's about the strangeness of them, the urgent need to make sense of them, and the unexpectedly deep and far-reaching parts that Audrey, Duke, and Nathan have played in them—in particular, the sparks between Duke and Nathan aren't about testosterone, they're about their mutual and perpendicular roles in the town's relentless and accelerating problems. Haven is evolving backwards, even as it expands into new territory.
Even more interestingly, it's also about confronting the Troubles on more levels than just resolving this week's crisis in 42. The climax that Duke, Nathan, and Audrey have reached is the complex and disconcerting dilemma of how to deal with the Troubles, balancing the safety of the town against the need to save each affected neighbor. And Haven is starting to explore what happens afterward: in "301" we re-meet "WWE Superstar Edge" (as he's billed, real name Adam Copeland) as the tough, laconic cleaner, Dwight, and in the second story of the season, "Stay," we get Bree Williamson as Claire, who has similar responsibilities on the mental side. And the high concept is that both of them not only tend to the fallout after the closing credits roll, if not before, but also worry about how our heroes are coping with saving the town and its strangely touched citizens day in and day out.
The Town Players
The newcomers join the existing supporting cast in upping Haven's game. Vince and Dave (Richard Donat and John Dunsworth), for example, the brothers from the newspaper, started out exuding the faintly creepy air you get from twins you meet exploring a haunted house. But two full seasons have allowed them not only to flourish and come to be an integral part of the town's mystery, but to emerge as individuals: they, too, face the impossible knot of how to proceed, and their not being quite of the same page about it creates a resonance that adds another layer of harmony to the concerto, underlying the straightforward harmony of resolving the latest fix.
Haven doesn't have the brash, attention-getting gloss and smugness of new shows bowing this season, like Arrow or Revolution. It's a solid performer that's grown its game, a soft-spoken middle seed that not everyone realizes is an up-and-comer. It knows what it wants now and it's striding toward it with calm and cadence. If any show deserves to fill the Friday night gap left behind by another quietly good Syfy series, Sanctuary, it's Haven. Welcome back, Parker, and I hope you find what you're looking for.