Preview: Stitchers 1×1 (US: ABC Family)

Inception for ironic young people

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, ABC Family. Starts tonight

Usually, there’s nothing quite like the word ‘family’ in the description of something televisual to guarantee its general shoddiness. But over the years, ABC Family has been a notable exception. I stopped watching the network’s output a while back when it started producing things like Bunheads: it may have been the best show in the world, but when you’re a 40-something male, you probably shouldn’t be watching TV dramas about female teenage gymnasts. – that’s just creepy. However, over the years, the network has produced some generally decent shows, including Kyle XY, Three Moons Over Milford, Lincoln Heights, 10 Things I Hate About You and Pretty Little Liars.

As you may have noticed from that list, the network has been moving from genre shows towards more conventional fare generally aimed at teenage girls and young women. But it apparently hasn’t escaped the network’s bosses that what teenage girls want to watch is changing – we’re living in a post-Twilight, post-Hunger Games world. So the network’s decided to take some baby steps back into genre TV. This autumn, we can see the continuation of the Mortal Instruments film franchise in Shadowhunters and now we have Stitchers, a hybrid sci-fi/procedural drama that’s part CSI, part Inception.

Emma Ishta is Kirsten, a technically gifted PhD student who has a rare brain condition that makes her unaware of passing time. This makes her aloof, rude, generally unloved and unable to feel emotions in the same ways as the rest of us – when her adopted father commits suicide she’s unmoved because it feels to her exactly the same as if he’d died years ago.

She’s also willing to break whatever rules she wants to get what she wants. While this gets her kicked out of Caltech, her condition does mean that she’s uniquely suited for the top secret ‘Stichers’ programme into which she’s quickly recruited following the washing out of the previous ’Stitcher’. The programme not only allows the brains of the recently deceased to be preserved for much longer than normal, it allows the ‘Stitcher’ to enter their memories as though they were the real world, in order to solve crimes. And in this first case, she must enter the mind of a man killed in a bomb explosion, because he’s stashed two other bombs around LA and they’re set to go off soon.

And while it’s as stupid as bag full of spanners wearing toupees, it’s at least a good deal more fun than CSI: Cyber. Here, have a rather good, Inception-like trailer that belies the show’s essentially cheap silliness and another trailer that’s a little bit less deceptive.

Stitchers follows Kirsten (Emma Ishta), a young woman recruited into a covert government agency to be ‘stitched’ into the minds of the recently deceased, using their memories to investigate murders and decipher mysteries that otherwise would have gone to the grave. Working alongside Kirsten is Cameron (Kyle Harris), a brilliant neuroscientist whose passion for the program is evident in his work. The secret program is headed by Maggie (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), a skilled veteran of covert operations, and includes Linus (Ritesh Rajan), a socially immature bioelectrical engineer and communications technician. Kirsten’s roommate, Camille (Allison Scagliotti), a gifted computer science grad student, is also recruited to use her skills to assist Kirsten in her new role as a ‘stitcher.’

Created and written by Jeffrey A. Schechter (Overruled!), who will executive produce alongside Jonathan Baruch and Rob Wolken, Stitchers stars newcomer Emma Ishta as Kirsten, Kyle Harris (Carrie Diaries) as Cameron, Ritesh Rajan (upcoming Jungle Book feature) as Linus, Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Eureka, I Am Legend) as Maggie, and Allison Scagliotti (Warehouse 13) as Camille. Todd Holland (The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle) will direct the premiere episode.

Is it any good?

Lower your expectations. This is not Christopher Nolan. It’s not even Dreamscape. You might as well be watching Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe for all its verisimilitude and documentary-like accuracy. But this is a show that knows it’s stupid and wants to have some fun.

At its heart, it’s an ensemble procedural just like anything CBS and The CW produce, with a tough boss heading up a team of ace nerds who wisecrack at each other ineffectually. The dialogue is painful, the show doesn’t bother even to so much as Google federal procedures for its ‘NSA… ish’ organisation and if you ran any of the characters’ supposed background details past a spy, they’d pin every one of them as obviously fake legends created by some seven year olds. Even the plot lacks the most basic of logical steps.

But the show knows this and even as it’s creating its own mythos, it’s acknowledging its problems, assuming the audience is perhaps smarter than most other networks would. For example, Ishta has to wear a Continuum-esque catsuit to enter people’s memories then lay in a tank full of water, two idiocies the show deliberately highlights with “It increases electrical conductivity… originally, you were going to be naked but we had some blow back on that” and “We call it ‘the Goldfish Bowl’” “Is that because it looks like a giant goldfish bowl?”

So instead of spending hours on made up science and non-existent procedure, the show devotes itself to its main characters and their interactions. While boss Salli Richardson-Whitfield is indistinguishable from any procedural boss in any way and all the other characters are generic nerds, Ishta, who looks and comes across like a young Monica Potter, is interestingly quirky and anti-social, if a little unpractised at acting.

She’s largely partnered with 50% nerd, 50% unwilling action hero Kyle Harris, who’s the kind of guy who’s unimpressed by other nerds, including Ishta, if they can’t name all the actors who have played Doctor Who since 1963. There’s a somewhat unwise attempt to give them a similar relationship and dialogue, albeit dorkified, to Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s in His Girl Friday, which doesn’t quite work but Ishta and Harris at least do their best with it and are even charming at times.

The idea the emotionless and often annoying Ishta will slowly be humanised as she gets to experience normal emotions for the first time, as well as the ongoing plot about the creators of the Stichers programme, opens the show up to possible development later on, too, including potential romance between Harris and Ishta.

But at practically every stage of the show, you will have to check your brain at the door because in between reprogramming a face-recognition algorithm to search for blue doors by changing ‘just four lines of code’ and the idea that the best communication interface for someone floating in a tank full of water is a keyboard she must type at with one hand and with her eyes closed, you might end up with a full-scale revolution if you don’t.

But like The Flash, this is a show that almost transcends its scientific illiteracy. While I think you’re going to need to be quite young to properly enjoy this, if you think of this as being a superhero show, rather than a sci-fi show, and think with your heart, not your head, you might well enjoy Stitchers.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.