We've got TV shows that explore what would happen if zombies, alien invasions or power outages nudge us into End Times territory.
What about rampant volcanoes? Bet you didn't think about that, all you fancypants anti-magma apocalyptic futurists!
To remedy this omission, along comes "Ring of Fire" (8 p.m. ET, Monday, Reelz Channel), which posits that, of all the Extinction-Level Events that face us, volcanoes deserve to be ranked right up there with meteors, the undead and enslavement by tentacle-waving aliens. (Note: "Ring of Fire" really likes the phrase "extinction-level event." If you watch this, be aware that you may find yourself slipping it in to everyday conversation.)
Does "Ring of Fire" have a point worth making about volcano danger? Confession time: I did not pick this production out of the pile of advance screeners on my desk because I'm up nights worrying about what unchecked lava might do to my family. I chose to watch this miniseries -- all four hours of it -- because one of its stars is Terry O'Quinn of "Lost."
The desire to use a headline involving the word "Locke-pocalypse" was just too damn strong. I could not fight it.
Is "Ring of Fire" a disaster flick worthy of one of TV's greatest character actors (who did his damnedest to elevate the silly -- and canceled -- paranormal show "666 Park")? Well, the first thing you need to know is that "Ring of Fire" is not on the level of a decent episode of "Lost," but this middling-to-mediocre Reelz production is at least a few notches above a Syfy Saturday night movie. The special effects in "Ring" are sometimes passable and sometimes fairly terrible, but there is an actual story on display and manages to be somewhat timely.
In "Ring of Fire," former "Alias" hunk Michael Vartan plays a scientist working for an oil company that has set up shop in a rural Pacific Northwest community. The oil company wants to have an environmentally friendly image and not be seen as a greedy despoiler of nature, but when things start going awry in the town and weird accidents occur in the surrounding countryside, Vartan's character and Lauren Lee Smith's environmentalist begin to suspect the company's drilling practices.
Given the controversy over fracking and the many disasters that have followed humans' endless pursuit of new energy sources, "Ring of Fire" is rooted in ideas that are fairly relevant. Is it plausible that actions taken by one energy company could set off a chain reaction of disastrous events around the world? Not particularly, especially since "Ring of Fire" was clearly made on the cheap and it never shows any fallout that might be occurring on other continents (computer maps showing What's Happening Elsewhere to the rescue!).
But biggest deficit here is one of charisma. O'Quinn, who is unsurprisingly competent as the oil company's shady CEO, is billed as one of the leads, but he isn't on the screen nearly as much as I'd have liked. Vartan and the bland Lee take up far more screen time, as do several workmanlike stories about townsfolk caught up in the unfolding environmental disaster. Around the fringes of this volcano, you'll find some wooden acting and subplots that remind you why the fast-forward button exists.
Still, I made it through the whole thing. It's the disaster-movie equivalent of a fast-food meal: It does the job. If you have a large pile of laundry that you would like to fold before the vengeful volcanos destroy us all, and you'd like an excuse to watch Vartan and O'Quinn for a few hours, you could do worse than to have "Ring of Fire" on in the background.
It will not set your imagination on fire, but its core premise is more believable than a lot of the apocalyptically-themed programming out there right now. And at least this disaster only takes a few hours to unfold.
"Ring of Fire" airs on Reelz Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
Ryan McGee and I discussed "Ring of Fire" (along with "The Americans," "Duck Dynasty," "Justified," "Enlightened" and several other shows) on this week's Talking TV podcast. You can find it here, on iTunes and below.
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