Dana Rabe, “Sometimes it pays to know an anti-social, paramilitary paranoid.” Preview of TREMORS: THE SERIES

Main Cast: Victor Browne, Michael Gross, Marcia Strassman, Glades Jimenez, Lela Lee, Dean Norris
Recurring Guest Stars: Christopher Lloyd, JD Walsh, Branscombe Richards, Robert Jayne, Sarah Rafferty
Seasons: 1
Episodes: 13
Available Formats: DVD, online at Great-TV-Shows, or Amazon Video
Production years: 2003
Genre: Schlock-Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy, Creature Feature

Tremors: The Series is the televised continuation of the science-fiction creature-feature film series of the same name.  The films introduced viewers to life in Perfection Valley, Nevada and its namesake town, the residents of which are afflicted by Graboids, Shriekers, and Ass-Blasters.  The initial 1990 film starred Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward evading prehistoric subterranean carnivorous worms known as Graboids that use vibrations to locate prey.  The subsequent films each contained the next level of evolution in the life-cycle of the Graboid, instigated by caloric intake and cinematic scientific license.

The second film brought about Shriekers, bipedal above-ground predators lacking ocular devices, instead hunting with thermal imaging organs, seeking their prey through their body heat.  Next film introduces the Ass-Blasters or ABs for short, also bipedal and heat-seeking but with the evolutionary advantage of gliding flight.  They are named for their means of achieving lift-off with a self-lighting gaseous eruption originating in the hindquarters. Each incarnation gets smarter the longer they live, increasing their threat level.

The television series focuses on the everyday life and trials of the small number of determined souls still seeking their livelihood in this desert valley.  Its natural barriers keep the sterile Graboid known as El Blanco from escaping into an area with a higher population density. El Blanco is now classified as an endangered species, making the Perfection Valley his protected ecosystem.  The core quintet of residents coexisting with this dangerous beast are Burt Gummer (Michael Gross), Nancy Sterngood (Marcia Strassman), Tyler Reed (Victor Browne), Jodi Chang (Lela Lee), and Rosalita Sanchez (Gladise Jimenez). Survivalist Burt and flower-child artist Nancy are series-long residents of Perfection.  Business-savvy Jodi and feisty Vegas-showgirl-turned-rancher Rosalita are nieces of now-deceased valley residents that met their demise in the films.  Former stock car driver Tyler is the newcomer, having purchased Desert Jack’s Graboid Adventures tour business. 

These characters’ lives and livelihoods are alternately at the mercy of both El Blanco and Department of the Interior Agent WD Twitchell (Dean Norris).  If Twitchell, a midlevel bureaucrat unhappily assigned to Perfection, decides that the residents are a threat to El Blanco’s well-being or the worm to theirs he can force them to move.  Twitchell has a say in the number of tourists entering the valley, and tourism makes up most of the Perfection Valley economy.  He also periodically uses Tyler and Burt as his go-to monster hunters whenever Graboids or Shriekers arise outside the valley, exhorting their help through threats or bribes regarding Tyler’s tour business and Burt’s survival school.

Recurrent characters include eccentric “mad” scientist Dr. Cletus Poffenberger (Christopher Lloyd), regular scientist Dr. Casey Matthews (Sarah Rafferty), wannabe real estate tycoon Melvin “the little turd” Plug (Robert Jayne), and avid sci-fi geek and repository of obscure references Larry Norvel. The protected status of the valley means that local boy turned unscrupulous real estate mogul Melvin cannot buy up the land and convert it to tract homes and strip malls as he so very much desires.

This monster-of-the-week series originated on the US science fiction oriented cable network SciFi (before it lost the ‘c’ and traded the ‘i’s for ‘y’s).  It is light-hearted in nature but does not stop itself from showcasing at least a body or body part per episode.  The writers and creators of the film series kept one of Burt Gummer survival rules in mind: “Do what you can with what you’ve got.” Each episode features a battle for survival against film series staples Graboids, Shriekers, and Ass-Blasters, while incorporating new creatures courtesy of a compound known as Mixmaster. This gene-splicing chemical leaked into the ecosystem due to negligence on the part of a both the federal government and their private defence contractor when hastily closing a secret lab that was maintained within the valley during the Cold War.

The writers also keep in mind another of Burt’s survival rules, “Know your terrain.” Fun characters drive the plot as much as anything else.  For horror enthusiasts there is plenty of running and screaming by heroes, heroines, and unlucky schmucks alike. There are also the genre stereotypes of attractive good guys, smarmy bad guys, and misguided tertiary characters. This series knows its target audience so there is a sufficient cheese factor as well as the casting of genre-exalted actors such as Christopher Lloyd.  In an episode that takes Burt and Tyler to New Mexico, they run into locals who would rather attribute disappearances to extraterrestrials than subterranean monsters with verified existence.

As it originally aired on a basic cable network, Tremors had more freedoms than network television regarding what the FCC deems permissible liberties regarding language, sexual attitudes, and other social mores.  It is miles from the routine nudity and gore of Game of Thrones.  There is a mild flirtation with the risqué as the sexy Rosalita often wanders around braless, and the hunky Tyler is depicted as some sort of Lothario.

The creature design continuity throughout the film and television series is a definite bonus. The practical creature effects are consistently high-quality and have aged much better than the green screen backgrounds used in some of the driving scenes.  The creature effects are curtesy of KNB EFX Group, Inc based on original designs by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.

No Graboids, Shriekers or AB were harmed in the making of this series. However, many pumpkins valiant surrendered their lives to make monster guts.

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