Created by Tim Minear & Ben Queen
Produced by 20th Century FOX Television, Reamworks
Aired on FOX for 1 season (4 episodes aired, 2 unaired + pilot) from April 13 – July 15, 2007
Nathan Fillion as Alex Tully
Kristin Lehman as Corinna Wiles
Kevin Alejandro as Winston Salazar
JD Pardo as Sean Salazar
Dylan Baker as John Trimble
Emma Stone as Violet Trimble
Michael Hyatt as Susan Chamblee
Rochelle Aytes as Leigh Barnthouse
Melanie Lynsky as Wendy Patrakas
Taryn Manning as Ivy Chitty
Riley Smith as Rob Laird
Mircea Monroe as Ellie Laird
All across the country, a secret organization is holding an illegal road race competition, bringing in participants to rally against one another to win a $32 million grand prize. Each racer has been specifically selected by unknown sponsors, who have put them into the game for reasons unknown to the racers, and each of the racers have their own personal motivation to participate in the race. Rules of the game involve solving puzzles to decode destination stops, and special rewards or penalties that push the racers to their limits. Through and through, it’s an action packed thrill ride of who wants to win more and what they are willing to do to cross that finish line.
The series follows several sets of racers, including Alex Tully, a man whose wife has been kidnapped in order to bring him into the race, Corinna Wiles, a woman who has a vendetta against the makers of the race, Winston and Sean Salazar, two estranged half-brothers who are brought together by their common grievances against their father, and John Trimble, a man who learns that he is dying and decides to live out his final days racing and bonding with his daughter Violet. Also on the road are three underprivileged women who want to win the money to improve their quality of life, a new mother who’s trying to escape an abusive husband, and an Army soldier and his wife, the latter of whom mainly wants to be in the race to keep her husband from being redeployed to Iraq.
Show creators Ben Queen and Tim Minear had both come from separate short lived series when they were brought together by Twentieth Century FOX to collaborate on a new action series about an illegal cross country racing competition. The series was given a 13 episode order and produced a pilot that did not fully satisfy the studio execs, so the pilot had to be reshot and recast. The new pilot added some back story and a character perspective, and recast the lead with Nathan Fillion. FOX promoted Drive with a two episode premiere night, followed by a third episode to air the following night as a lead-in to their highly popular series 24. Despite their best efforts, the show aired the following week to very poor ratings, which prompted FOX to pull the plug on production on, then formally cancel, the series. With only a window of two weeks, the series barely had a chance to warm up the engine to cross even the starting line.
Like most new shows being developed during this time, there was a sense of deep serialization to this writing that would center on some kind of mystery, in this case a shadow racing competition organization, and an ensemble cast of various characters. Shows like Lost and Heroes capitalized well off this template. Another factor that may’ve contributed to the green light for this show could have been the popularity of The Fast and the Furious franchise, which led to car racing getting a rise in audience approval. Although Drive, at its surface, may have appeared to be a simple action show, it also had many unique qualities that made it an above average television program for its time.
The series narrative was well written and established on screen, and had strong potential for great character development and diverse storytelling with the various types of people who are competing in the race. Within even just the first few episodes, the stories would interlace and cross over in compelling ways that caused conflict in competition, alliances, betrayals and other turns. Every episode had consistent momentum throughout its short run, with many very talented cast members given interesting and fun material to play with. The format of each episode presented a puzzle for the characters to solve in order to decode the location of the next checkpoint to get the next clue, which allowed a procedural element to the serialization. Each episode began and ended at a checkpoint, and within those checkpoints, the journey the characters would go on would develop their plot further, and reveal their character as they interact with other players or teammates. There was enough complexity to the series that it could warrant replaying the episodes so that audiences could discover something new within the plot that they may not have noticed before, or just to be entertained by seeing the sequence of events play out again.
From the pilot episode, the story engages the audience to root for Nathan Fillion’s character Alex Tully, as they are placed into his disoriented state when he is pulled into the race to learn information about his wife’s kidnapping. He enters the orientation room having missed the presentation, and the lecturer is unsympathetic to Tully’s kidnapped wife situation, declining to give him the cliff notes version. Of course, Tully finds a way to get him to talk, and the exposition is given to Tully as well as the audience, and that’s all they need to get the show’s premise. Although the audience learns about the cross country road race from the perspective of Tully, he is not the only character that will engage the audience. From there, now that the viewers know what the deal is, the pilot presents other characters and their situations in order to follow those threads throughout the series. Some of these threads don’t follow as consistently as others, but that is only because there is so much ground to be covered. Had the series continued, surely all the set up that had been presented would’ve paid off.
Another interesting aspect of the show is how it deals with the elimination of characters from the race. There are a few points in the race where characters could be eliminated or are cut out of the race, but somehow the story continues with them as they discover loop holes or alternate entries back into the race. A particularly pleasant turn of events comes in episode four, “No Turning Back”, where an underserved character named Leigh (Rochelle Aytes) gets eliminated, but discovers a renewed purpose to find a path back into the race, which makes the character much more interesting, with promise for more development.
The series showcased many fine actors, including Nathan Fillion, Dylan Baker, Emma Stone, and Melanie Lynskey. Fillion plays the lead, Tully, with as much charisma as he is known for. Lynskey gets a very meaty part in this series, playing a housewife who is trying to keep her newborn away from her abusive husband. This show also featured a very interesting role for Taryn Manning as Ivy Chitty, a lower class trashy girl who is likably underhanded (Possibly a precursor to her character ‘Pennsatucky’ from Orange is the New Black).
Although the series was cancelled before they could reveal what was at the end of the finish line, Tim Minear has talked about the series and what would’ve happened if it had stayed the course. It’s too bad audiences never got the chance to take that ride.
This series really ought to be made available to audiences, as it is a very well constructed show, and even though there is no conclusion to the series, the six episodes are still really entertaining. There are members of the cast who are notable and marketable, and lastly, any series with Tim Minear’s involvement warrants a place in home video collection shelves (still waiting on that Terriers DVD release).
Tim Minear went on to work on Dollhouse, The Chicago Code, and most recently American Horror Story.
Ben Queen proceeded to write the screenplay for Cars 2, and has since developed the TV series A to Z with Rashida Jones and Will McCormack.
Nathan Fillion followed this up with a 12 episode run on Desperate Housewives, and then a lead role in the presently airing Castle, and he is currently running an Indiegogo campaign for a web series called Con Man.
Rochelle Aytes was later cast in roles in Las Vegas, Bones, and Dirt, and has most recently been seen in a recurring role on Criminal Minds.
Melanie Lynskey would continue to work on Two and a Half Men, with appearances on The L Word and Psych, and is currently appearing on HBO’s Togetherness.
This series has yet to be released on home video media. For a time, the episodes, including the unaired episodes, were released via Amazon and iTunes downloads, but currently the episodes are unavailable. There are a few scripts available in pdf format at Tim Minears website.