Warehouse 13 Steampunk TV
By stephanie - Sunday, August 16th, 2009
It took my mother (my own mother!) to get me to give Warehouse 13 a try (I’d pretty much given up on cheesily renamed SyFy). But Mom can be surprising – she liked the new Star Trek, and she loves Warehouse 13. This is after having absolutely no interest in science fiction her entire life. I guess that’s proof enough that scifi has really gone mainstream.
I finally got caught up on Warehouse 13 via the magic of Hulu. (Side note to Hulu and TV execs: Why not leave all the episodes and seasons up there?) After seeing the first episode, I was pleasantly surprised. After all, Warehouse 13 is not an original premise by any stretch of the imagination. We have:
1. A warehouse taken from Indiana Jones.
2. The “collect the cursed object” theme, ala Friday the 13th: The Series (which I’d love to rewatch at some point, actually).
3. Secret agents Mully and Sculder in comedy format, who are actually more reminiscent of…
4. Bones…with a lead guy who actually looks like David Boreanaz’s brother.
5. Somewhat insane gruff, anti-social scientist ala Fringe.
The show manages to pull all these already done ideas together in a way that is surprisingly fresh and entertaining. A few things make this work: First, the casting is excellent. The characters are likeable and the rapport between the main characters terrific. But more than that, we have the Warehouse and its fun steampunk gadgets.
“Steampunk” is a term I’ve only heard recently via discussions of Warehouse 13. It refers to a combination of modern technology and retro styling, with a heavy emphasis on an ornate Victorian feel.
I’ve always loved steampunk without knowing exactly what it was. The first steampunk movie that got my notice was Brazil (from way back in the 80s) with its strangely retro but cyberpunk typewriters and futuristic regression. I just loved the gadgets in Brazil – it was part of what made the movie a classic for me.
Anyone remember The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne? This was a steampunk fantasy show that was on SciFi back in 2000. It included a dirigible and all sorts of anachronistic, futuristic gadgets. (It’s a shame that show went bye-bye…I would love to see it again!)
Even Farscape, I felt, had a slightly steampunk feel to it…not that the gadgets were Victorian or overly ornate, but we had gotten away from that sterile cold look that had dominated the new Star Trek shows. The videophone on Farscape was a golden clamshell, and all the instruments on Moya were a rusty copper instead of the slick modern look of Voyager.
I also loved Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow…more Art Deco steampunk than Victorian…but a delicious visual feast. And the Golden Compass was similarly underrated – the design in that film was absolutely beautiful!
So Warehouse 13 brings us a show that would mostly be mind candy were it not for its scrumptious steampunk aesthetic. The secret agents do have cellphones, but they are more likely to use a two-way video phone that was made in the 1920s. Artie, the mad scientist of the lot, types away at a Victorian-style keyboard. (This keyboard was designed by a steampunk artist called Datamancer who sells custom-built computers and accessories in lush steampunk style.) The gun of choice for our heroes is a retro raygun built by Tesla (who is often brought into steampunk-inspired fantasies…if you recall, he played a big part in the film The Prestige).
Warehouse 13 also demonstrates some knowledge of the steampunk fashion currently hitting the underground by donning young Claudia, computer genius, with her own pair of steampunk goggles. (I wasn’t sure if I was too crazy about Claudia at first, but I do feel she’s a better foil for Artie than boring Aura Girl.)
Of course, a few steampunk gadgets will not keep the show afloat on its own. While I do feel a lot of the show’s plots are a bit banal and could have easily been written for Friday the 13th, the saving grace here is that Warehouse 13 is simply enjoyable. A lot of that has to do with the humor, and both the leads have an excellent delivery that sets this show apart from the much drearier Fringe.
We’ll see how the show evolves…and if SyFy will keep it around for more than their usual 13 episodes.