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.
– 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?
AIRED ON 6/15/2014
Season 1 : Episode 12