Pilots and Premieres: “Believe” – Series Premiere

Who:  “Believe,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on NBC, Sundays at 9:00 PM.

What: “Believe,” a supernatural/fantasy drama about a young girl with psychokinetic and telepathic powers and the man, an escaped convict, tasked with her protection, as the scientific institute that studied her vies for her recapture against a group of defectors who believe her abilities are divine in origin.

When: The series premiered on NBC, Monday, March 10, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The characters are on the move and have visited several cities so far, but they’re at least in the United States and primarily on the East Coast.

Why: Who doesn’t like a good supernatural drama with some creepy, powerful child at its center? Also, it was co-created by acclaimed Spanish director Alfonso Cuaron and is being executive produced by JJ Abrams and Bad Robot.  I am in the cult of JJ; he is my geeky soul-mate at a producer level.  I will watch anything endorsed by that man.  He’s not perfect, but his hits far outweigh his misses.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

Believe = ***1/2

SYNOPSIS

Bo Adams (Johnny Sequoya) is a special girl with special powers, so special that Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo) whisks her away from an Institute that has obsessively studied her and others like her all their lives, an Institute that is spearheaded by a man named Roman Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan), who ambitiously sees Bo and the others as scientific providence.  Milton and his group believe that Bo’s abilities are special, possibly divinely bestowed upon the young girl, who is the strongest of all of those being studied by the Institute.  In order to protect her after Milton steals her away from the Institute, he frees William Tate (Jake McLaughlin), an accused murderer, from prison.  As it turns out, Tate is Bo’s biological father, and their bond is instant, if explosive, at first.  In exchange for Tate’s ongoing freedom, Milton and his group help him to protect Bo from those who would exploit her, while her abilities manifest whenever she experiences strong emotions; even Tate senses that she is something special.

THOUGHTS

Believe instantly reminded this viewer of Touch, another program about a youngster with special, possibly divinely ordained abilities who was coveted by a conspiracy of corporations, with scientific and financial exploitation of the boy and others like him as their ultimate goal, while the young boy’s father fought to protect him.  In Touch, the young boy, Jake, did not speak and manifested his unique abilities through numerical connections, suggesting that the world could be explained by the patterns and relationships of numerical sequences, such as the Fibonacci Sequence.  In Believe, Bo’s abilities are much more straightforward: she is psychically advanced, can move things with her mind, can sense others’ emotions, and can occasionally read people’s thoughts, abilities which she came by naturally and which were augmented by scientific study and processes facilitated by the Institute that provided her foster care throughout her childhood.

Believe also hearkens back to an eighties movie called Firestarter, starring Drew Barrymore as a young, precocious girl who could start fires with her mind.  In that film, Ms. Barrymore’s character was stirred to pyro-kinesis during moments of strong emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, and so on.

These comparisons only serve to suggest that Believe’s premise is neither original nor innovative in its conception or execution.  Stories like the story at the forefront here have been produced for screens large and small before.  Still, though this show offers nothing new or unusual by way of its fundamental plot line, what ultimately makes it interesting and engaging at all is twofold: first, the presence of actors like Mr. Lindo and Mr. MacLachlan lend a certain credibility to the proceedings; they really sell their individual characters’ points of view.  Of particular charm is Mr. Lindo, playing a kindly yet dangerous man willing to die for the belief that protecting Bo is tantamount to doing the work of/for God, while Mr. MacLachlan, who also dotes on Bo from a frightening mix of scientific ambition and fatherly affection, plays the not entirely cold/unfeeling but not entirely to be trusted Institute director with less than savory aims and/or means by which to achieve those aims.  These characters are each morally ambiguous at their core and are the tent-poles for the protagonist and antagonist of this little play – yet the viewing audience is tasked to decide what it believes by the way these characters are presented and portrayed as far as who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy.”

Second, the chemistry between Sequoyah and McLaughlin is undeniable.  Only the audience, Milton, and a trusted member of his group know the true nature of their relationship, which renders their mouthy rapport winning and humorous.  Tate’s path is clearly one of redemption: protect the girl and atone for his crimes, though he repeatedly professes innocence of committing the crime of murder.  Bo’s path is to understand what she is and where she comes from; in fact, a burning question for this viewer is who her mother is and how Bo came to be in the clutches of the Institute. In any event, Tate and Bo fight like cats and dogs, yet there are quiet, sweet moments depicted, when Bo clearly feels safe with her new protector, and he clearly, though subtly, shows affection for her.

Bo’s powers also manifest in startling and sometimes frightening ways.  When an assassin is sent after Tate with the assignment to kill him and to take Bo back to the Institute, Bo reacts by sending a flock of birds swarming around this assassin, distracting her from Bo and Tate’s escape.  It was positively Hitchcockian in execution and gave this viewer chills.

These touches render Believe something better than the run-of-the-mill supernatural child fantasy/horror fare. This viewer, at least, is interested enough to see where the story goes and will watch this program, as long as it is on the air, for now.  Believe is up against Resurrection on ABC and Game of Thrones in its time slot, however, so the competition for ratings is stiff, and Believe is not winning the ratings race, perhaps because the story is truly not something new or fresh.  Also, some of the dialogue is occasionally clunky and/or forced, particularly from MacLachlan’s character, as various groups circle Bo and Tate, and as dramatic tension is ratcheted to fever pitch with Roman fervently and eagerly ordering Bo’s swift return from an austere board room. Still, enough questions have been raised, particularly about Bo’s origins, that entice this viewer to continue watching; perhaps others will follow suit if the show enjoys any kind of longevity.  At least, NBC is typically more forgiving than Fox.  Let’s see how it fares.

RECOMMENDATION

Believe is recommended to anyone who liked Touch, FirestarterThe Seventh Sign, or any story featuring a child on the hero’s journey, such as Harry Potter (there are no wizards here, though). Potential viewers should also enjoy television shows that pose more questions than provide answers, at least at the outset, and should not prefer easy, cookie cutter characters that fall squarely on the side of black or white/good or evil.  This show appears to be pitting science against religion, in some sense, and is leaving the origin of Bo’s gifts as well as the moral and ethical motivations of the main characters up to interpretation by the viewers without becoming esoteric in the process.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

TVLine is calling renewal of this program “a long shot.”  Ratings measurement outlets note that the ratings are fluctuating, though the show has consistently lost to Resurrection, a show about dead people inexplicably coming back to life, on ABC in the same time slot.  If NBC considered moving the program to a different night, it might fare better.  As of today’s date, eight episodes have aired, and this viewer has watched two.  I will continue watching until the end of the ordered/aired season.  Most likely, May sweeps will ultimately determine the program’s fate, though it’s not looking good.  Touch was canceled too, for the record.

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