Unless it Gets Better, Past Life's Future Isn't Certain

Because there are so many procedurals out there, I'm always skeptical that a new one can hold my attention. At this point there needs to be something to hang my hat on besides the cases themselves—be it an odd central character, an overarching mythology, screwball comedy, or Nathan Fillion. Especially on a show that's slated for a Thursday-night primetime slot before Fringe. That said, the new Past Life, from Friday Night Lights producer David Hudgins, was a disappointment—it had an interesting, compelling premise, but it was muddled in a whole lot of talking and an unsatisfying conclusion.

The send-up feels very much like this show could have been The Sixth Sense in an earlier incarnation: Everyone has "past lives" that are trapped inside them, deep within the recesses of their subconscious, which manifest themselves in thoughts, memories, and actions when they're trying to communicate something important to the outside world. It's not always bad stuff, either—in last night's premiere, a little girl who'd been murdered many years ago inhabited the body of a teen to clear the name of her father, help the police track down the real killer and, as it turned out, her long lost sister. Kate McGinn (Kelli Giddish) is the Haley Joel Osment, an agent who believes in reincarnation and interprets the vague directives of these past lifers for real-world application. Her new colleague, Price Whatley (Nicholas Bishop, channeling a little bit of McNulty), is the Bruce Willis skeptic.

The case itself twisted and turned as this poor teenage boy was tormented by his (soul's?) previous occupant, and the resulting slow release of new information drew me in. If only every other aspect of the show wasn't so distancing. Whatley spilled the beans early on the fact that his wife was killed a year ago in an accident he blames on himself; the more this reincarnation naysayer learns about the theory—and witnesses it with his own eyes—the more hope he feels that he might speak to his wife again. It's all a little heavy-handed, but at least Whatley's got something else going for him aside from the case at hand. McGinn, on the flip side, revealed only the tiniest personal tidbits: She lives with her mom, cancels dates for the sake of her work, and believes wholeheartedly in everything having to do with past lives. So much so that she finds herself expounding about her theories with a broad grin on her face, as if there's no reason anyone in the entire world could ever not believe what she believes. Over and over, as if they're the absolute truth. It's a little creepy, like talking to someone with Jews For Jesus.

Richard Schiff (The West Wing's Toby) makes an underutilized appearance as a member of the team. And the scenes from the past life—grainy footage spliced together frenetically—add a nice aesthetic to complement the grounded real-life action. But a few nice touches do not a compelling procedural hook make.

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