Believe Series Premiere Review: More Like Doubt

By Kaitlin Thomas

Mar 11, 2014

Believe S01E01: "Pilot"

There once was a time when the name J.J. Abrams meant something in this business. Okay, that's unfair, because the name J.J. Abrams still means something in television, it just doesn't necessarily carry the same kind of weight it did immediately following the early success of Lost in 2004. He's still a super producer and I'll probably still check out any show that has his name in the credits. But it takes more than just a big name to make a great a TV show, which is why I was more excited for NBC's Believe once I realized that Alfonso Cuarón—yep, the guy who just won an Oscar for directing Gravity—was also involved in the series. Cuarón is credited as Believe's creator and executive producer, and he directed the pilot, which looked great. But there's more to a good TV series than simply looking cool. If Breaking Bad had boasted great direction but lousy writing, I don't think anyone would've championed it. All the pieces have to be present, and as of its series premiere, Believe is missing a few of those pieces.

The series centers on Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a young orphan girl with special powers. At the young age of 10 years old, she hasn't yet learned how to control them; instead, they're tied to her emotions. So when she gets scared, or when she's angry, her powers—which include levitation, telekinesis, seeing the future, and a knack for summoning birds via high-pitched screams—make themselves known. And that puts her at risk, because she's wanted by an unseen organization wishing to exploit her abilities for their own use. 

Headed up by the powerful Roman Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan), the group is flush with cash, pretty assassins, and all the resources it needs to easily track Bo, which is why self-proclaimed good guys Winter (Delroy Lindo) and Channing (Jamie Chung) help a falsely accused Death Row inmate named Tate (Jake McLaughlin) out of prison: so he can protect her. After all, they can't just stick her with another pair of foster parents like those who were killed in the opening scene of the pilot. 

Tate and Bo instantly displayed an easy chemistry, despite the fact Tate had no interest in becoming her guardian. At one point he actually asked how long the job was going to last, as if he was a teenage babysitter inquiring as to what time the parents planned to return. As for Bo, she seems kind of like an outspoken pain in the ass who wants to use her gifts to help people. And for natural misanthropes like myself, this is incredibly annoying. But I suspect that her desire to help others will eventually give the series a broader feel, which should help balance out any serialized mythology that comes up along the way.

What sort of mythology, you ask? Well, it'll probably have something to do with the fact that—as Winter revealed at the end of the pilot—Tate is also Bo's father. At this stage in the story, neither Bo nor Tate is privy to this supposedly shocking twist. But is it really all that surprising? I get the impression that Believe's writers thought they were dropping a bombshell akin to divulging that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense, or that John Noble's character on Sleepy Hollow was actually Ichabod's son. Instead, it felt more like pleasantly discovering there's a 2-for-1 deal at Dunkin' Donuts. Minds were not blown, is what I'm trying to say. Minds were like, "Oh, yeah, that makes sense."

I have to wonder what the reaction would have been if Believe had witheld this particular bit of information until the audience had a chance to bond with the duo over the course of a season. Would it have had more of an effect? Would we have gasped aloud? As it stands, I thought it was a rather obvious and boring development—which, as of the pilot, seems about par for the course with Believe. So far, nothing about the series is particularly original; television is currently home to more shows involving characters with some sort of supernatural power than ever before, and Believe's first episode didn't give us anything we can't get elsewhere.


Of course, we still don't know much of anything. We know Tate is Bo's father. We know Skouras and Winter used to work together, and that Skouras is the only person who knew Winter wasn't as dead as everyone thought. And we know Skouras wants Bo for presumably nefarious purposes. But none of the questions posed by Believe's pilot are particularly interesting or time-sensitive. I just don't feel the urge to demand answers, you know? And to make matters worse, the main characters of Winter, Skouras, and Channing are mere caricatures of good guys and bad guys. I'm honestly kind of astounded Skouras didn't spend the show's first hour sitting in a corner twirling a mustache while laughing maniacally. 

Believe's pilot had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time, and I recognize that it's difficult to create an instantly compelling backdrop for a TV series, especially when it's a TV series that on paper sounds like many we've seen before. But if Believe wants to succeed, it needs to sketch both its characters and Bo and Tate's story with bolder colors, stat. Ask some big questions! Tease some big answers! Give us something more than vague mysteries and stock villains! Otherwise, the show will drag and I'm not sure anyone will be inclined to stick around. And I'm not sure I'd even suggest it, no matter whose name is attached.



NOTES


– Winter claims he wants to protect Bo, that he's a good guy, but he also claims that he's waiting until the time is right to tell the world about her, which flies in the face of keeping her safe. Why does the rest of the world need to know about Bo and her powers at all? Presumably, even if Tate succeeds in keeping Bo safe, and they eventually dismantle Skouras's network of evil, someone else will undoubtedly rise up to take his place.

– How and why did Winter get involved in Bo's life?

– I think Believe would've been better off if it had slowly peeled away Tate's tough outer shell, rather than seemingly stripping it from him almost immediately in the pilot. Let him be a curmudgeon for a little while! Let Bo open him up slowly.

– The action scenes look great, and everything in general looks really cool. I'd expect nothing less from Cuarón.

– It might be worth noting that Believe shut down for a bit early in its production schedule, and has changed showrunners since production began, which is generally not a good sign. Take from that what you will.


What'd you think of Believe's series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?


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  • spgspgspg Aug 21, 2014

    The show reminds me of all the late 80s and early 90s sitcoms combined together. Sure, I watched the whole season because it was light hearted and I was curious if it warrants a second season. Though it wasn't annoying but it is something that has been done before. For a second season to begin, there needs to be a cliffhanger. Where was it in season one?

  • sandieharris98 May 26, 2014

    I really liked the show believe on sunday night, wish that it was not going off the air in two weeks. You need to bring it back in another season.

  • _Fire_Ice Apr 08, 2014

    I've been trying to decide whether or not to watch this show. From what I've heard it reminds me of a 2000's TV movie called Sole Survivor, mixed with a little Bless the Child. So far people seem to be giving it ok ratings but I don't know, someone please convince me.

  • JJanpheng Mar 17, 2014

    That dude beaten by a girl. Damn he must be weak.

  • Whatifnuts Mar 16, 2014

    I liked the pilot so I'll hang on for the time being. I didn't see the twist coming so it really caught me by surprise which was nice and made me like the relationship between Bo and Tate even more.

  • sergio78246 Mar 15, 2014

    Bland characters and the idea of the good guys not having guns seems idiotic. I'll at least watch the next few episodes and see what happens. Hopefully Tate eventually gets a gun :)

    "We don't do guns Mr. Tate. We're the good guys." - Winter

  • Swinglabacase Mar 15, 2014

    I don't know how long it's going to take for networks to see that series involving a child with "superpowers" or "strange abilities" has never worked and will never work... That may be good for an episode, a movie or even a mini-series or but not a year long series.
    Even (and mostly, really) with J.J. Abrams stamp. Most of his projects after Fringe (which began to decline after the 2nd season) have failed anyway. (Well, I consider POI a "Nolan" project.).

    There is something very uncomfortable in watching adults going after a child, wanting to hurt a child, wanting to abuse a child's talent, terrifying a child and being violent and killing people around a child. A lot of people just don't want to see that...

    Maybe one should let the children be children, and not bring them into our adult violent mess. Abrams should instead do a movie or a mini-series that would patch the holes he's left in "Lost" which has shown his total disrespect for the viewers...

  • JJanpheng Mar 17, 2014

    Lol children are being killed right now, and many more is going to die (Real life). If movies only show that adults can die, it won't be very believable, like in the old movies where they can't show death of children, so weird, everybody dies (on planet Earth at least).

  • Swinglabacase Mar 17, 2014

    I'm not saying "do" or "don't". TV has never and will never be a mean to improve society. I'm just saying that some people don't like to watch that, and I also know that some, like you, enjoy watching that. Some don't like "macabre" some do. To each his own trip... All I'm saying is that this kind of premise has never worked for long on TV. But, hey, who knows? Maybe this time it will.

  • dolphin_intern Mar 16, 2014

    Agreed, Abrams knows how to start a series off amazingly but doesn't know how to carry it past the second season i.e. Alias which is the big example that comes to mind. Touch was also another series that focused on a young gifted child whose life was in danger from another big bad Corporation wanting to exploit his abilities for their own gain and it didn't last past the second season.

  • Swinglabacase Mar 17, 2014

    I didn't know Abrams did "Alias". I didn't watch that show.
    The thing is that nonetheless, the guy achieved in pulling 5 seasons out of "Alias" and "Fringe" so, to the networks, he's profitable...
    But I don't believe (no pun intended) that this show will pull that many. Some will watch for a while to see what powers she has (I won't) but will get fed up eventually.
    "Touch" was badly written and I think many kept watching because of Kiefer Sutherland.

  • dolphin_intern Mar 18, 2014

    LOL definitely I haven't even watched the second episode yet and I'm not really dying to. I agree 'Touch' was painfully slow in the first season and sporadic in the second but I think it had some good moments but I can see why it was cancelled. I feel 'Believe' will meet the same fate especially since it's a mid-spring premiere.

  • Hovabyte Mar 15, 2014

    This is basically 'Touch'.
    With a girl.
    With different abilitys.
    oh...and she talks.

    I still liked it.

  • ben45tpy Mar 14, 2014

    This was terrible, one the the worst pilots I've seen (no exaggeration). None of the characters were interesting whatsoever. The Death Row guy immediately began to act like no Death Row guy ever would, completely destroying the show's credibility. Not to mention that he's on Death Row yet can't decide whether he wants to escape until the last minute - yeah right!

    Then the rest of the episode was made up of completely formulaic and dull moments with some of the worst dialogue you'll ever hear. Especially bad was the doctor's arc. One patient dies so he decides to quit and whines to his comatose dad about him not believing in him, barf. You're a doctor, show some professionalism! And then the girl had to redeem him by reading his dad's mind in the most drawn out and most heavy handed way.

    It's so disappointing that the show would start so poorly. What about this episode was supposed to draw us in? What is the show really about? If it's just a girl with cliched powers and bad guys chasing after her then it's already overstayed its welcome. I won't be watching on.

    As to Cuaron's involvement, it's baffling considering the classic films he's directed. Even the opening long shot was a mess. It ended up shooting all the wrong angles just to fit it altogether. It recalled the famous shot inside the car from Children of Men but the difference in quality could not be more significant.

  • MichelleHood24 Mar 14, 2014

    I loved this pilot. For such a young actor the character of Bo is so witty it's great she was excellent I love her already. I love the back and forth banter between Bo and Tate it was effortless it didn't feel forced it was very natural I see them getting on each other's nerves which will be great. I'm not 100% sure about winter yet I'll wait a few episodes to make my judgment on his intentions. The fight scenes were well done very feel, it might just be me but that scene with the bird tornado was beyond scary that would be my worst nightmare and I'm not scared of birds.

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