These days, it's entirely possible to be sick and tired of a show before it premieres. One night, you catch yourself unconsciously mouthing the words to an aggressive, inescapable TV ad, and suddenly you realize you've contracted a raging case of Anticipatory Burnout Syndrome. You kind of don't even want to see the darn show anymore.
But don't hold its large publicity budget against Fox's "Drive," which premieres Sunday night at 8 on Channel 25, before moving to its regular Monday night slot. There are a few other things to hold against this hyped action drama, which is "The Amazing Race" with a U-Haul of bland storylines trailing behind it.
No, "Drive" isn't awful; there are chase scenes, tricked up with breakneck speed and near misses; there are guys with guns; and there are pretty girls, including a mystery lady played by Kristin Lehman , who has the face Courtney Love has been trying to build for years. But the show still lacks the charisma that a serialized story requires to keep viewers coming back for more. And after a season of serialus-interruptus, with shows such as "The Nine" and "Kidnapped" getting axed mid-plot, a serial has to be seriously compelling to inspire viewer commitment.
The "Drive" gimmick -- a secret cross-country road race -- does have some potential as a vehicle for an ensemble of characters and the uber-mystery that has brought them into one another's lives. The show could be "Lost," with blacktop. The people in the race aren't sure why they were invited to participate, or who is in charge, or who is offering a $32 million prize to the winner. They just listen to the assistant to the boss, played by Charles Martin Smith , then pile into their cars and go. The first stop is in Florida, and each driver receives a text message with the clue, "Fly to Jupiter and find the red eye."
But no matter how fast the contestants book it to the Sunshine State, their stories feel flat. The central character -- the Matthew Fox of the piece -- is Nathan Fillion's Alex. He's in the race because he has been led to believe that he'll find his missing wife at the finish line. A woman who may be an abused wife (Melanie Lynskey ), an ex-convict (Kevin Alejandro ), and a father (Dylan Baker ) and daughter (Emma Stone ) are among the other competitors. Their motives for racing -- aside from the money -- are unknown, and don't promise to be very rich. As on "Lost," we also glimpse backdrop characters who may move to the forefront at some point, if the writers need them.
"Drive," whose list of executive producers includes Tim Minear , creator of "Firefly," may turn into something more as the race develops. Maybe the plots will merge in ways that make us more curious about the racers and the Big Brother figure behind them all. Early on, though, it looks like everyone is just heading very fast down a dead-end road.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.