Around the Water Cooler & Looking Back: “Believe” – The Cancellation and Why, This Viewer Believes, a Lack of Faith Sunk an Uplifting Show

Who:  “Believe” aired on NBC during the 2013-2014 television season on Spring 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.

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.

When: The series finale aired on NBC on June 15, 2014.

Where: The characters are on the move and visited several cities, 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?

In my review of the pilot, readable here, I rated Believe 3.5 out of 5 stars.  The program reminded me of other fare, including Touch, FirestarterThe Seventh Sign, or any story featuring a child on the hero’s journey, such as Harry Potter.  I contended that these comparisons suggested that Believe’s premise is neither original nor innovative in its conception or execution and may even be derivative in many ways.  Yet, the show–and I watched all thirteen produced episodes–remained interesting and engaging throughout its one season lifespan.   The presence of talented actors like Mr. Lindo and Mr. MacLachlan, who were both convincing and compelling, anchored the show with a credible suspension of disbelief. Most importantly, Sequoyah and McLaughlin, and there onscreen bond, were endlessly watchable.  They presented an undeniable chemistry and rendered each of their characters compelling, individually and together, and their story was uplifting without being too sentimental or manipulative as well as spiritual without making any decisive connection to or commentary on religion of any type. Believe was better than average.  Why, then, did it suffer the chopping block?  A late season entry that did not see the light of renewal?

This viewer has only guesses.  From what I could surmise, critics were lukewarm to the show, and ratings were soft.  Those who watched, however, of the general Joe and Jill Q Public seemed to enjoy the show, as this Jill did.  Personally, I think the show was well written, well performed, and well directed.  It set out to do what it was striving to do: present a tale of ordinary faith in extraordinary circumstances.  It painted a portrait containing characters of different aims and, dare I say, beliefs, with varying methods of execution and action rooted in human nature and the variations between us all, and allowed each of those characters to find something in the end, whether it was redemption as in the case of Tate; a family for Bo; atonement/vindication for Milton; humility for Roman; or purpose for many of the other characters touched by Bo’s amazing abilities.  The show also appealed to both the head and the heart, presenting questions to ponder without becoming too esoteric or mired in ambiguous “what-ifs” or obfuscated facts to which the viewing audience was never made privy.

The show had drawbacks, other than being slightly derivative of other fare.  It’s hard to imagine what a second season would look like when the first was wrapped up so neatly. The first season also meandered quite a bit in the chase of Tate and Bo by both Roman and federal marshals on the hunt for escaped convict Tate.  It was also odd that the series arc wrapped up with the tale of another of Roman’s special prodigies feeling murderous because he seemed to favor Bo over her.  Yet, in a long form, if the story was constructed well, the show could have focused upon Bo’s evolution and how she affected the world, as she was clearly the more advanced of all of Roman’s pupils.  She was able to stave off “the degrade,” a disease that proved fatal for Bo’s biological mother and for most of the special students at Roman’s research facility, as they repeatedly used their special abilities.  In addition, Bo was able to steer lives away from events that we were able to glimpse through Bo’s telepathic snippets and visions that clued her into the fact that lives were in trouble. These possibilities alone spelled potential for further seasons, if the show had been allowed to survive.

I think the show should not have been scheduled for Sunday nights in the spring. Sunday nights, perhaps, but not spring Sundays.  ABC won the night with its block including Once Upon a Time, and Resurrection, a show also containing supernatural themes, was set up against Believe.  Viewers who might have also been interested this show were no doubt tuning into Game of Thrones, airing at the same time on HBO. This viewer does not see how Believe could have stood out among such strong-minded fantasy concepts: fairy tales that intertwine, loved ones that come back from the grave, and fictional kingdoms at war for a throne in a land of dragons and fantastic beasts.  Believe was a small show with a smaller premise, which is to say that it wasn’t less important, but its aims were far less grandiose than those of these other offerings.  Since American society seems programmed for “bigger and better,” NBC never really gave this show a fair shot, scared off by softer ratings, perhaps with good reason if not a fair one.  Believe might have done better if set against ABC’s lengthy, mid-season Once hiatus, or even as a summertime offering, when new scripted drama is scarce and possibly more likely to draw willing new viewers.

This viewer also suspects that child heroes in adult situations do not seem to sit well, historically, with viewers on the elder side of things.  Maybe it’s the idea of endangering the child character for him/her to become a hero, as any adult on the hero’s journey would also have to experience.  Maybe it’s the idea that a child can’t possibly know more than the adults surrounding him or her, regardless of the fiction supporting the young character.  Looking back at TV history, let’s consider the fate of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, played by Wil Wheaton, who was barely older than Sequoyah is here.  Wesley was an intelligent, precocious child with ambitions of becoming a Starfleet officer – yet, he irked Captain Picard, saved the Enterprise once or twice, and became this very particular fandom’s overall villain and hated character forevermore, even though this some time Trekkie wouldn’t have started watching ST:TNG if it weren’t for the fact that Gordie LaChance from the movie Stand By Me hadn’t appeared in it, back when I was only a little younger than the character of Wesley was on the show.

Another example comes from a program more recent in memory, and one of the inspirations possibly for this show: Touch. That show was canceled by Fox after two seasons, and why?  It was a brilliantly complex story with a beating heart tied together by the love of a father for his son and additionally brought on by the connections between members of the human race, complicatedly defined by numbers as a code, possibly, for the building blocks of life.  But who could see these connections?  A small boy named Jake (who would later play the young Bruce Wayne on Gotham), who was unable to talk and who was frequently endangered, to the distress of his single, widowed father played by Kiefer Sutherland.  Yet, Jake, like Bo, also often affected those in the world around him, steering them toward happier places and away from dangerous places based on the numerical connections he saw, and his character was sought after by powerful industrial and government sponsored scientific complexes aiming to exploit his abilities.  Why did that show fail?  I found Touch riveting in the same way I found  Believe riveting – perhaps, the latter less so, only because it felt derivative of the previous show.  Like Touch, Believe was full of intelligence, heart, and grit, offering hopeful stories about a hopeful girl who may or may not have been touched by something greater than her.  It was produced by Alfonso Cuaron and JJ Abrams – two respected directors and producers.  It was quality, maybe not of the highest kind but a sincere and solid effort, and yet, it still failed.

While this viewer could solely blame the network for failing to market this show, or for scheduling it in a difficult time slot during an even more difficult part of the television viewing season, I think it suffered from a larger lack of faith: faith from the larger viewing audience that children bring hope.  Consider how children are treated in society today: prevailing attitudes of current generations (and I’m a member) seem to dictate, on average, that children are to be coddled, protected, spoiled, and/or taught but rarely encouraged beyond this toward the extraordinary, and when it does happen, by faithful parents who are able to achieve the balance between the need to parent and the importance of letting their children grow, it tends to make news.  I think this show has much to say about the bond between parents and children and about the need to give some children more credit than they are initially allowed, and that thread, that vessel of reality pumping through this fantasy driven show, might have proved a bit too real for viewers to watch the program – or even to stay with it once watched. Quality may have been less-than some but certainly better than others that have remained on the air, and yet, the show was given no renewal and an ignominious finale date in the middle of June.

Perhaps, I am being too hard on society, or television viewership at least.  Perhaps, this show didn’t merit saving for the simple fact that it lacked originality.  Yet, it didn’t lack heart, and it didn’t lack faith; faith in the world, faith in something greater than ourselves, faith in each other.  I guess I feel that TV could stand to bring back more of that kind of thing – and this program endeavored to do so in an interesting way.  If only it had been given a true shot – think where it might have gone?  Now, we’ll never know.

We at least know (spoilers) that Bo is with her dad and out of the clutches of Roman, who came to see that his obsession with the supernatural abilities of his subjects ultimately destroyed them and himself, though not without hope of redemption at some point.  We know that Milton was able to redeem himself somewhat for endangering Bo’s mother, once driven by that same obsession.  And we know that the series was wrapped up nicely and can be watched as a self-contained story, even if the program didn’t see life past a first season.

PARTING SHOTS

Believe is not necessarily original, and it’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s decent.  This viewer was entertained while watching it. It posed many questions without providing answers, but, even at the series conclusion, those answers weren’t necessary, given how the story ultimately unfolded.  The characters did not fall squarely on the side of black or white/good or evil, either, which also produced a compelling story. This show left 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. There is also a sprinkling of Touched by an Angel in this program, with faith and spiritualistic pursuits serving as an undercurrent, even though fantasy and family are the beating heart of this short-lived show.  Yet, it was never hokey or trite, which possibly spurred this viewer to write this review.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled before its season was done airing in 2014.  The outlook on this show was always grim, so it was no surprise. Still, of all the offerings that suffered early cancellations last television viewing season, this was probably the best of the ones I watched.  I wish more people, network executive or viewing public alike, thought the same.  Sadly, apparently they don’t: it doesn’t seem to be available, currently, at any major streaming service, even Amazon Prime for a rental fee.  This one can be chalked up to “died too young and gone too soon.”  RIP.

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · May 4, 2015

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