Third-episode verdict: The Whispers (US: ABC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Supernatural and sci-fi summer shows generally follow a standard pattern: a good beginning followed by a quick descent into the tedious and unextraordinary. Look at Under The Dome and Extant.

For a while, it looked like The Whispers was going to follow the same path. Thankfully, it’s picked up again and is still quite a promising weekly viewing.

Based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, the series gives us invisible, largely intangible aliens trying to invade the Earth by persuading young children that they’re playing a game with a new playmate. These games have almost all turned out to be fatal to the children’s important parents and have all been part of a linked masterplan to destroy us all. Or at least America.

At the same time, an FBI child specialist (Lily Rabe) and her ex-lover Defense Department operative (Barry Sloane) are sometimes independently, sometimes jointly putting the pieces together, while simultaneously investigating the disappearance and mysterious reappearance of Rabe’s husband (Milo Ventigmiglia). Which turns out to be linked. Who’d have thunk it?

Despite the presence of a not inconsiderable number of terrible child actors as well as the desperately uncharismatic Rabe, the first episode gave us a surprisingly large number of chills, particularly in the second half, which amped up the alien weirdness.

Just like the parents, however, episode two fell victim to the children, so even with Ventimiglia carving tattoos into his own skin, the show felt like it was pulling up a deckchair and a mint julep, ready for a summer of relaxation while the kids played on the lawn, as it basically retrod everything we’d learnt in the first episode for the benefit of the characters. So far, so Extant.

Fortunately, episode three started advancing the plot again and pushed the kids a bit more into the background, while simultaneously giving us the bold idea of a white, American suicide bomber still in infants school. Did you ever think US TV would give us that? Well, I didn’t. And rather than simply having Milo Ventimiglia run around a lot, there was some actual action as well.

The show’s biggest problems are Rabe, the preponderance of insipid child actors and the slightly tedious soapiness that requires Rabe to be married to the chief suspect. But above all that are its absolutely pedestrian direction. While to a certain extent the show’s intent is to scare through the mundane and the everyday, rather than be a new Children of the Corn, the sheer banality of the direction is almost breathtaking, with seemingly no effort made to try to scare or to insert any imagination into shots. Not every show can be Hannibal, but they should at least try to be better than a training video for fitting a new fumigator hood to your stove.

The Whispers is no classic, but as far as scary TV goes, it’s so far doing a far better job than many of its predecessors. Although it could be doing even better, it’s a reasonably decent way to while away the time of a Monday, one I might well stick with for the foreseeable future.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Could well get a second season, even though it probably won’t and shouldn’t need one