The final shot of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' - in which the crate containing the Ark of the Covenant is revealed as just one among thousands of crates in a huge hangarlike building - is basically the premise of Warehouse 13.
Surely, we all wondered what might be in those other crates. Might at least some of them contain items as significant and powerful as the Ark itself?
Almost thirty years later, Warehouse 13, without referencing 'Raiders' directly, offers to answer that question. It proposes the existence of a very secret organisation operating deep within, but apart from, the United States Government, charged with the collection, storage, and, when necessary, recovery, of potentially dangerous "artefacts." As it turns out recovery is frequently necessary because 'Warehouse 13' is not that great at storage, judging by the number of times "artefacts" go missing.
Some of the "artefacts" are mystical, while others are invented by, or at least somehow associated with, famous historical figures. Warehouse 13 loves name-dropping.
So, for example, Freud's clock enables one to enter the subconscious of another person, while Lincoln's top hat gives the wearer the uncontrollable, but now socially awkward, desire to free any nearby black people.
The format of the show mimics The X-Files in that we have a pair of mismatched agents, one male, one female, solving a new mystery more or less every week, except for some longer story arcs. The style of the two shows is completely different. Mercifully, Warehouse 13 never takes itself as seriously as The X-Files did.
In many ways it is a curiously old-fashioned family-friendly show. People die but usually not with much in the way of emotional investment or very realistically. The script sometimes touches on Big Questions, but rarely explores them properly. For example, the characters condemn someone who uses an artefact with the power to save one life at the expense of another without really asking if they would do the same in a similar situation if someone they loved was on the line.
The tone of the project was set by the pilot, which was co-written by Jane Espenson, who wrote some of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including "Band Candy" and "Earshot." Espenson deserves to be better known: she is one of the very few successful women writers in fantasy and science fiction genre television, in which she has a curriculum vitae second to none. Having learned her craft under Joss Whedon, she has also been involved with Angel, Firefly, the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Dollhouse, Game of Thrones, Torchwood, Once Upon A Time, and Jessica Jones.
The casting also reflects a different sensibility. Where the two leads in The X-Files were conventionally gorgeous, if rather vapid, Warehouse 13 went more for genuine character. Joanne Kelly gives off a definite Minnie Driver vibe as Myka Bering, and Eddie McLintock as Pete Lattimer comes across as a combination of David Boreanaz and Fred Willard. Despite a complete lack of sexual chemistry, this actually works rather well and the two forge a believable partnership.
However, the real heart of the show is Saul Rubinek as the effective manager of the Warehouse, "Artie" (Arthur but also artefact) Nielsen, who, behind his warm personality, is a man with a past. The versatile character actor, probably best known was the flamboyant film producer in 'True Romance,' really deserves the sort of prestige project that gives him the sort of recognition fellow veteran J K Simmons got for Whiplash. Until that happy day, Warehouse 13 provides an excellent showcase for his talents.
Allison Scagliotti also makes a positive impression by turning a potentially annoying bratty teenager, Claudia, into someone about whom we really come to care. The only disappointment is that Genelle Williams seems to be setting up mysterious guest house owner Leena into a significant character only to have her storyline go nowhere.
A very strong list of recurring and guest stars includes Roger Rees, Anthony Stewart Head, Lindsay Wagner, Rene Auberjonois, Mark Sheppard, Kate Mulgrew, Jaime Murray - bizarrely as "H G Wells" - and Brent Spiner, but it is CCH Pounder who stands out, as she usually does. She plays Mrs Frederic, the rather disconcerting Caretaker of the Warehouse and director of the whole organisation, who turns out to be a lot older than she looks. A lot older.
All these elements fit together very comfortably. The word "amiable" might have been invented specifically to describe Warehouse 13. It can be applied to the sum of its parts as well as to most of the individual parts. Warehouse 13 is probably not a show that ever changed anyone's life, but you can pick almost any episode at random, enjoy hanging out with the regular gang, and be entertained by a clever story told with some wit and a good sense of pace.
You might discover it is one of the most enjoyable shows of which you have never heard.
About the reviewer: John Winterson Richards
John Winterson Richards has a law degree from the University of Bristol, an MBA from the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST), almost 30 years' experience as a management consultant, and a fascination with organisational structures. An experienced freelance writer as well as a consultant, John has been commissioned and paid to write over 500 articles in print and online. He was a regular guest on the Mind Your Own Business podcasts and a major contributor to that website's blog.
John has also written The Xenophobe's Guide to the Welsh: A guide to understanding the Welsh that explores their nature and outlook with benevolence and humour, and How To Build Your Own Pyramid: A Practical Guide to Organisational Structures for Managers. Both are available from Amazon (see above).
Published on December 2nd, 2019. Written by John Winterson Richards for Television Heaven.