A very SIBERIA review

I didn’t even remember that this show existed until four days ago. However, thanks to a glowing review of the finale, I scratched my head and thought, “Wait… this show exists? And I’m not watching it?”

(Incidentally, I do comic reviews on another site. Reading this review reminds me of why I keep doing it. If my own appetite can be whetted by one humble opinion, then there’s hope that I have also influenced the opinions of others in a similar fashion.)

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So… what is Siberia? I actually remember so early ads, and it was being pitched as a reality show. I remember because … well … I actually want to travel to Siberia someday because I love nature and it seems like a vast, untouched expense of forests and lakes. I’m not a big watcher of reality shows, but Survivor is definitely still intriguing, mainly because of its scenic locales.

However… it turns out that the reality show thing is a front. Yes, even though all the actors are playing characters with the same names. (It makes them really easy to keep track of, though.) It turns out that Siberia isn’t actually a legitimate show where contestants compete against each other for a crazy prize. No… it’s actually the latest attempt at recreating Lost. Which is fairly clever, really, as Lost itself was influenced by Survivor. The difference is that Siberia is far more committed to its reality TV influences, straight up doing confessionals, dodgy camera work, and mysterious rewards.

Now, I was (and still am) a huge fan of Lost. I’ve tuned in to plenty of Lost-alikes that have just fallen flat on their faces. FlashForward, V, The Event, Revolution, Falling Skies, The River…. However, each of them lacked that ineffable something that Lost had that made me want to power through seven or eight episodes in one sitting. Siberia made me realize what was missing.

That something? Characters.

Damon Lindelhoff and Carlton Cuse got heavily mocked on the internet for some of the plot developments on Lost that failed to paid off or were very disappointing. Their excuse was that the plot wasn’t what mattered. It was the characters. Hey, make fun of that all you want, but they are 100% correct.

I realized this after Siberia began tossing one implausible thing after another. Mystical girls would appear out of nowhere in the middle of the woods. Characters would discover pools of blood and speakers stashed in trees. For some reason, the sky would turn green. However, I found that I really didn’t care if there were any answers to these puzzles, which would probably turn out to be terrible. (I’m only on Episode 5 right now, though. Who knows? They might be mind-blowing.)

What I did care about was how the characters would react to the situations. The thing that hooked me on this show was the description of the character of Johnny.

Johnny (Johnny Wactor), the prototypical “good looking bad boy who plays by his own rules” whose initial douchiness is deconstructed to surprisingly affecting effect—his reluctantly assumed leadership role forcing him to make some wrenching decisions.

This is a very accurate description of the character. It’s also what got me hooked. Why? Because it made me realize taht I missed Sawyer. Seriously, Sawyer was probably the number one reason that Lost lasted for six seasons. (Locke would be the other, but the reasons for his popularity are similar to Sawyer’s.) The rest of the main crew was kinda bland. Jack was stalwart. Kate was over-emotional. Charlie was earnest. Sayyid was tortured. But Sawyer had that arc. You were suspicious of him and hated him at first, but the little things he did eventually chipped away at you. By the time he became the reluctant leader in Season 3, I was nodding my head and going, “Yup, makes sense.” Like, that was his destiny once he stopped being a tool without losing that roguishness.

I’m in Episode 5, and Johnny is turning into a similar type of character. He’s introduced as the Win-at-all-costs guy you see in all reality shows. When the group’s trying to make a fire, he lazes about on the roof because, surprise, he’s secretly got a lighter. Thus, when bad things happen to them, Johnny becomes suspect number one… which actually is a stealth tactic to get us to like him. When accusations come down his way, he takes it all in stride and blows it off like he’s cool… but we know it’s eating him up on the inside. So when things get tense around Episode 4 and he’s accused of being abusive toward a well-liked female character… we’re actually firmly on his side.

Here’s the thing, though. He’s not the only character like this. Pretty much everyone in Siberia is full of depth so you’re rooting for them one episode and despising them the next. Esther, who is a reality show villain, is probably the best example of this. He actions waffle from altruistic to despicable, but in doing so reveals personality flaws in all of the other contestants.

I’m still only halfway through, but I’m really excited to see how this all pays off. My biggest regret is that I wasn’t on this when it was airing weekly. Siberia‘s apparently suffered very low ratings, which is not surprising. I mean, how do you even promote a show that has this many layers of oddity? A Lost-style mystery disguised as a legitimate reality show. Super weird, and super rewarding.

Other notes:

  • The intro is probably the most cinematographic that the show ever gets. It’s a faithful parody of Survivor style intros, and it provides plenty of clues as to where the show’s going.
  • Neeko is another favorite of mine. He sets himself up as leader early on, but when he’s confronted by things he doesn’t understand, he visibly freezes up. Major props to the actor for getting that burden across without ever overdoing it.
  • I remember reading a short comic written by Neil Gaiman about a guy who accidentally starts the apocalypse. He hires a hitman and realizes that the going rate gets cheaper the more people asks to get offed. One sleepless night, he call them up and asks what it would cost for everyone in the world to be assassinated. The hitman says something along the lines of “Nothing. We only need to be asked.”

    I got that same feeling of ominous dread after the first contestant, Tommy, is killed in the first episode. (Or “killed,” I should say. We never see it happen.) He leaves the remaining contestants with a decision. Those who decide to leave will be offered $5,000 because of the tragedy. Those who want to stay will still be offered the chance to will half-a-million dollars. All but one decide to stay. It’s the same theme. By staying on because of their greed, they have ensured their own doom. (Though a few seem to be on board not because of the money, but because they want to get to the bottom of what’s going on in Siberia.)

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