A recent online article about Warehouse 13, an original series on the Syfy channel, noted that about half of the show’s viewers are women. More than that, the network and the show’s writers are intentionally targeting a female audience, and it’s made Warehouse 13 one of the channel’s most successful creations. Where a lot of other shows have tried and failed, Warehouse 13 is getting it right. Here’s why.
At first blush, Warehouse 13 might not seem like a show particularly aimed at fangirls. The premise is simple: a super-secret unit within the Secret Service (as opposed to the FBI in The X-Files) safeguards a warehouse of mysterious artifacts with magical powers (shamelessly cribbing from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark), and each week the team tracks down another item for the collection. The spirit is good clean fun: although the show has its serious moments, the tone leans toward campy – more Castle or Eureka than CSI or Battlestar Galactica.
But that’s not what makes the show so well suited for female fans. Instead, it’s the way the writers choose to tell the story of the characters and the plotlines they inhabit. In many shows, it’s the setting and the premise that drives the show, and the characters are just there to take us along for the ride. In Warehouse 13, the characters are driving the show, and the setting and premise are just the context in which these character interactions occur.
At the core of the show is friendship. The lead protagonists, Pete and Myka, aren’t just mission partners, they’re good friends. Their teamwork begins with the obligatory skeptical standoffishness, but they quickly fall into a pattern of cooperation and witty banter. Although their boss Artie maintained his grumpy grizzled mentor routine far longer, by the end of season two we’re far beyond grudging respect and into real friendship. The same is true of youthful Claudia, who at first is only out to prove herself but winds up a full member of the team.
The writers have included a healthy dose of romance, as well, yet have studiously avoided bogging down the Pete-Myka teamwork with much sexual tension. It’s there, of course, but it’s kept in the background. Recently, Pete had an extended romance plotline with a veterinarian. Claudia experienced the full range of emotions in young love with her own outside-the-warehouse paramour. Even Artie got a bit of romance of his own with an old friend.
During season two, the show did something particularly interesting: added another strong-willed, intriguing female character with questionable motivations and an unclear agenda. Helena might be a villain, or an ally, or just out for herself – and for quite some time the audience was left wondering and speculating. By contrast, the first main foil for Pete, Myka, and Artie was Artie’s former friend, now nemesis, MacPherson, a man who came off as basically straightforwardly a bad guy. It’s not that common in TV or the movies to find a female foil with so much more depth than the male one.
Finally, Warehouse 13 usually fits the Brownie Sundae theory: it gives you a good fun hour of television that leaves you glad you watched and with a smile on your face. Perhaps the last few minutes of season two might not exactly qualify – but given its track record, I bet the show will give us many more delicious treats in season three.
“Secret Santa”, a special holiday episode of Warehouse 13, premieres tonight at 10pm Eastern on Syfy. Look for season three to begin in the summer of 2011. (Season one is available now on DVD; season two ended in September, and its DVD release date has not yet been announced.)