‘La Brea’ looks to draw viewers in with family drama

Rick's Reviews

Natalie Zea’s character in “La Brea’ will be a central figure in telling the story. (Photo courtesy of NBC)

NBC is doing it again. The network that launched series with complicated mysteries such as “Manifest,” “Debris,” “Surface” and “The Event” and canceled them before a satisfactory conclusion aired has scheduled “La Brea” to begin at 9 p.m. Sept. 28.

The new drama begins with a massive sinkhole opening up in the area of Los Angeles at the La Brea Tar Pits. Hundreds of people, cars and buildings plunge into the void only to land in a world that looks to be the primeval past. Those who find themselves in this strange world must work together to survive.

Work begins to understand what happened. What caused the hole? How did it lead to a time vortex? What kept all of the people from dying when they landed when cars and buildings were destroyed?

These are questions that will be explored. The sticking point is whether the audience should invest in the show when there are no guarantees all of the questions will be answered.

Those who make television programs have little say in such matters. It eventually comes down to network executives making a decision to keep the show or cancel it based on ratings, fan reaction and advertising support.

Executive producer David Applebaum – the creator of “La Brea” – has opted to put his energy into the creative process. He’s not spending too much time pondering what could happen with his production.

Applebaum says, “For me, what we’re trying to do is just make the best show possible, trying to make something entertaining, trying to make something emotional. As far as whether a show gets canceled or not, that’s not something that, really, I can think about.

“Those are decisions that are made beyond me. So, my focus is really just on trying to make an entertaining show and trying to garner an enthusiastic fan base, which we know is out there and we’re excited for them to see the show.”

The idea for “La Brea” started with Applebaum imagining a giant sinkhole opening in the middle of Los Angeles. It was an image he couldn’t shake.

Once he visualized the action-filled opening, the next step was to consider all of the questions viewers will have. His solution was to deal with the big questions through an interesting cast of characters. The cast Applebaum and his team has put together includes Natalie Zea, Eoin Macken, Jon Seda, Nicholas Gonzalez, Chiké Okonkwo, Karina Logue, Zyra Gorecki, Jack Martin, Veronica St. Clair, Rohan Mirchandaney, Lily Santiago, Josh McKenzie and Chloe De Los Santos. 

The series is a major change for Zea whose most recent work was being a short-lived love interest in the CBS comedy “The Unicorn.” Her character in “La Brea,” Eve Harris, is a mom, a role that she often gets. This show offers enough variation on that theme to make it feel fresh to her.

“I tend to play roles that are linked to whatever male counterpart I am linked to. I’m usually a wife or an ex-wife, and that story favors pretty primarily in a lot of the work I do,” Zea says. “What was great about this was even though I am an ex-wife and a mom, my identity isn’t surrounded by that.

“I get to have a full story that has to do with how I’m, sort of, navigating this world as opposed to what my relationship is with my significant other. And there’s something – even in 2021 – it’s rather fresh, especially for me. So, I was really excited to explore being able to play something that was sort of independent of my standard operation.”

Zea’s character will be instrumental in telling the story. The grand picture is this savage land that is a major threat to those who have landed there. The heart that Applebaum has given the series is Zea’s character and her son being separated from her ex-husband and her daughter.

Applebaum is convinced viewers will connect with that family and all of the other characters. He anticipates that connection will be more of a concern than the mysteries driving the story.

The series creator has had plenty of time to ponder all of the aspects of the series. NBC executives heard the initial pitch for the series two years ago. Filming on the pilot episode was stopped once the pandemic hit.

Production has finally started with the majority of the series being shot in Australia. There will be a few scenes filming in Los Angeles – including the opening sequence where the sinkhole opens – but most of “La Brea” will come from the land down under.

It’s up to viewers to decide if the story of the family torn apart by the major event is enough to make them gamble on the show. For the record, a fourth and final season of “Manifest” has been ordered for Netflix but no air date has been announced. The mysteries go unsolved.

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