In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Watch. Starts March 27th
There used to be a time when I'd look forward to a show that had the name JJ Abrams attached. Even to this day, Felicity has its fans and although Alias went to seed in the second season, it was a real gamechanger and made Jennifer Garner’s career. Lost cemented Abrams' reputation, even if he had minimum involvement with it, as did Fringe - at least in some quarters.
But largely, Abrams’ reputation rests on those shows - and it’s a foundation of sand. Look over his CV, and even if you discard the pilots he made that never saw the light of day, such as The Catch, Anatomy of Hope and Shelter, you’ll see he’s mainly produced turkey after turkey. Remember Six Degrees, Undercovers, and Alcatraz? Almost Human wasn’t exactly a tour de force, and if you’re still watching either Revolution or Person of Interest, you have my sympathies.
So now I approach any TV show with Abrams’ name attached with a fair degree of caution. To a certain extent, that’s because Abrams’ playbook has become quite clear. He stocks up the pilot with a sci-fi or fantasy scenario, fills it full of random mysteries and questions that must be answered, adds a secret organisation with answers to these mysteries of the in-world universe that have no implications at all in the real world, adds in a few ‘wow’ moments, a few martial arts fights and then, over the course of the series, slowly ekes them out, adds more mysteries, before finally revealing the largely unsatisfying answers. Not always, but that’s usually how it goes, assuming they don’t get cancelled before they’ve had a chance to reveal all.
So behold Believe, Abrams’ latest show in which a mysterious organisation led by Agent Dale Cooper (sorry, Kyle MacLachlan) is hunting down a young girl with secret powers over pigeons. Yes, pigeons. Oh, she can do other things, too, like predict the future and read minds. How? Good question. She just can and she might change the world as a result, so the baddies want to control her.
However, there’s another secret organisation led by Delroy Lindo that wants to protect her. So they bust a wrongly convicted death row prisoner (Jake McLaughlin from the TV version of Crash) out of jail and put him in charge of protecting her… for the rest of his life. Not the best idea in the world, you might think, so why have they done that? Well, that’s a mystery. Kind of. But it all revolves faith and belief.
It sounds a bit rubbish, it is a bit rubbish, and with yet another central mystery of no real-world import, a secret organisation, etc, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was Abrams working by numbers. But, actually, it’s Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Gravity) and Mark Friedman (The Forgotten) who are the creative forces behind it, so despite its Abrams-ness, there are a few quirks to it you might not have been expecting.
Like that it’s deliberately silly to the extent that the main baddie is worried she won’t be home in time for her mum’s birthday with all the child-hunting she’s got to do.
Here’s a trailer. It'll tell you the answer to at least one of the mysteries mentioned above.
Levitation, telekinesis, the ability to control nature, see the future... since she was born, Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) has had gifts she could neither fully understand nor control. But now that she is 10 years old, her powers have become stronger and the threat from malevolent forces that would use her abilities to control the world has grown more dangerous. With her life and future in jeopardy, Bo's protector, Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo, "The Chicago Code"), turns to an unlikely source to keep her safe - Tate (Jake McLaughlin, "Crash"), a wrongfully imprisoned death row inmate who's lost his will.
Tate and Bo begin an extraordinary journey, one in which trust must be earned. On the run and traveling from city to city, every place they stop and everyone they meet will be changed forever. But they'll have to keep going to stay one step ahead of the sinister forces after Bo's power... because it will take a miracle to keep them safe forever.
Also starring are Jamie Chung ("Once Upon a Time"), Arian Moayed and Kyle MacLachlan ("Portlandia," "Desperate Housewives.")
The series comes from Executive Producers J.J. Abrams ("Person of Interest," "Revolution," "Fringe," "Lost," "Super 8," the "Mission: Impossible" and "Star Trek" movies, upcoming "Star Wars"), Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity," "Children of Men," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Y Tu Mamá También"), Bryan Burk ("Person of Interest," "Revolution," "Fringe," "Lost"), Jonas Pate ("Deception," "Prime Suspect," "Caprica") and Hans Tobeason ("Damages," "Saving Grace," "V," "Cult.")
"Believe" is produced by Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Bad Robot Productions and Warner Bros. Television. The pilot episode is directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Is it any good?
It’s more amusing than good, a sort of feelgood Mercury Rising crossed with Touch, in which nothing too awful happens and the baddies aren’t really that bad and are almost loveable in some ways.
The pilot episode itself is largely dedicated to giving McLaughlin’s character some motivation, setting up the dual protective-acquisitive secret organisations and their strange relationship - they’ve got each other on speed dial - giving the hero someone to run from (Sienna Guillory from Luther) and making us all want to believe… in whatever it is that girl Bo is supposed to represent. So we have scenes of miracles performed by Bo, people being inspired by Bo, random butterflies turning up to suggest her innate goodness and so on.
And that’s all pretty much by the book. There’s almost nothing here that you won’t have seen before and with a central mystery that will inevitably disappoint - I doubt Bo is going to be the new Jesus or even Mohammed and I suspect that nothing truly interesting will be said about the world if the mystery is ever revealed - you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to watch based purely on the plot.
Instead, it’s more in character that the series shows a glimmer of promise. Although Jamie Chung has a thankless supporting role, McLaughlin’s serviceable enough as the lead, but is neither hero nor anti-hero and the fact (SPOILER IN CASE YOU DIDN’T WATCH THE TRAILER)) he’s Bo’s father but doesn’t know it does add a twist to the story. The weird relationship between the goodies and baddies verges on the amusing at times and Guillory (who unfortunately seems only to be in the first episode) is equally quirky.
Another plus is that the goodies don’t use guns, instead relying on Bo’s super powers to… erm, momentarily distract enemies with pigeons while they all run away. As a result, it’s unlikely the show will dissolve into being a simple firefight action show, which makes a change, and the hand-to-hand fights are relatively well executed, even giving us a bit of capoeira for a bit of variety.
Nevertheless, those are pretty slender differentiators and there’s nothing truly compelling about the show, unless you want something a bit escapist but that’s a bit light and fluffy. I might give the second episode a try, but feel no real need to do so unless Monday looks a bit boring and I need a distraction.
And that’s probably how you’ll feel about it, too, meaning in a couple of years’ time this will be yet another entry on Abrams’ CV that everyone will overlook as his next secret organisation-MacGuffin show gets the go-ahead.
- March 25, 2014: Third-episode verdict: Believe (NBC/Watch)
A review of the first three episodes of NBC/Watch's Believe
- March 14, 2014: What have you been watching? Including Growing Up Fisher, Secrets and Lies, Red Road, Suits and Agents of SHIELD
What I watched on TV in the week ending 14th March 2014
- March 21, 2014: What have you been watching? Including Remedy, Spun Out, W1A and Ender's Game
What I watched on TV in the week ending 21st March 2014
- May 13, 2015: Trailers for ABC's new Fall 2015-16 shows
Trailers for ABC's new Fall 2015-16 shows
- September 28, 2015: Review: Quantico 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)
A review of the first episode of ABC/Alibi's Quantico
- January 26, 2016: Review: Stan Lee's Lucky Man 1x1 (UK: Sky 1)
A review of the first episode of Sky 1's Stan Lee's Lucky Man