In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Fox UK
Remember the days when illnesses on TV simply made people sick? Happy times, huh? Now, they simply kill huge chunks of the Earth’s population (The Last Ship), turn huge chunks of the Earth’s population into zombies (The Walking Dead), turn huge chunks of the Earth’s population into vampires (The Strain) or turn a few people into weird immortals who want to kill everyone else (Helix).
Now we have The Passage, in which we have a virus that turns a few people into weird, immortal, definitely-not-vampires who want to kill everyone else. There’s new, hey?
It starts off with good scientist Henry Ian Cusick (Lost, The 100) heading off to South America to investigate a supposed 250-year-old man, hoping to find out the secret of his longevity. Unfortunately, it turns out that the secret is he’s a vampire – don’t say vampire – and he ends up biting Cusick’s fellow scientist Jamie McShane (Bosch, Bloodline). McShane rapidly heals and equally rapidly becomes a bit odd, so he’s shipped back home and locked up and experimented upon to see if the secret of his vampirism – don’t say vampire – can be replicated and maybe made less ‘vampirey’ (don’t say vampire).
After experimenting a lot on handy death-row prisoners, the scientists get their formula to the point that the vampires – don’t – still look human, even if they do have to drink blood from time to time. But that’s still not good enough and the scientists reckon that the problem is all their test subjects are too old. Stick the secret formula into a child and they might have a way of curing all diseases and death, all without the need to constantly crack open someone’s vein for some top O-.
When a new avian flu pandemic for which there’s no vaccine flares up in East Asia, morality about experimenting on kids quickly gets thrown aside as the Americans realise it might infect Americans. So they pick a test orphan (Saniyya Sidney) and dispatch ex-special forces soldier and Saved By the Bell star Mark-Paul Gosselaar to bring her in.
Unfortunately for them, he lost his own child three years previously and soon develops a bond with the girl. Despite not knowing exactly what they’re up to, he quickly decides his bosses are evil and decides to ignore his orders and go on the run.
Which is probably just as well, because the new creatures of the day, not the night, definitely not the night, might also have psychic powers and are filling people’s dreams with thoughts – thoughts that might include letting them out and infecting the human race with the new engineered strain of the disease.
However, given we’re told by Sidney in voiceover at the beginning that “this is how the world ends”, I wouldn’t put all my money on Gosselaar succeeding in his quest, if I were you.
Loosely based on the trilogy of books by Justin Cronin – loosely in the sense that I can’t imagine The Passage ever telling the story of what happens in the dystopian vampire future of 1,000 years from now after everything’s gone to crap – The Passage does at least have more thought put into it than a whole bunch of shows, particularly ones on Fox, and does have decent interplay between its two lead character.
But that still can’t cover the fact that it’s slow-paced, not especially interesting or innovative, and is basically Believe again. At least, so far.
As with Ultraviolet, it tries very hard not to be about vampires and prohibits people from saying the v word because that would be silly; unlike Ultraviolet, it’s still quite silly so not saying vampires feels dumb. They’re vampires.
So on the plus side, I quite liked the fact you’re not quite sure what the vampires are up to. You know they’re up to something, at least in people’s dreams, but you’re not quite sure what. You’re also not quite sure what the evil scientists – who at least think they’re good – are up to and why they want Sidney in particular, for example. They’ve not told Gosselaar, so he’s no help. I also liked the developing relationship between Sidney and Gosselaar, which isn’t the tedious ‘street kid v unfatherly man’ fare you might be expecting – Gosselaar really does come across like a regular dad who knows how to deal with children.
But action scenes are mostly predictable and dull and you know you’re off to a loser when a chase scene starts with the chasers sauntering. There’s one or two fights that feel like someone thought a bit about them, but we’re still hiding from 9mm rounds behind bits of wood and choosing to attack trained special forces guys bare-handed, rather than with guns. It’s a bit pot luck whether you’re going to get a smart or stupid fight, I’m afraid.
Conspiracy of silence
Meanwhile, there’s a whole lot of conspiracy going around without it being clear what the conspiracy is. Everyone seems to know one another and may or may not be under the control of the vampires, but it’s never clear who’s actually running the show, what they want and why the people who aren’t in the conspiracy are conspiring, too. If it’s not the scientists, why do they want the girl? If it is the scientists, why is the fact the chief scientist (Caroline Chikezie) sleeping with evil bloke and Gosselaar pal Vincent Piazza such a revelation? It’s all just a bit too nebulous.
Plus I’m not 100% sure that a bunch of scientists who so far have only managed to create more vampires with their solution might reckon it’s a cracking idea to roll it out globally before they’ve even done Phase I trials of something stable. I think “let’s try pretty much anything else” would probably be their go-to on that.
All of which makes The Passage at least feel a bit smarter than your generic action show and at least not as stupid as The Strain, but also quite a bit stupid, as well as quite dull and uninspiring. There’s not really any more of a USP here than Believe had that would make me want to watch episode two.
That said, this trailer for the rest of the season does suggest the first episode is a bit deceptive in terms of the show’s long-term plans, so I might just tune in to see what happens next, at least, because it might just be smart enough to surprise. Although maybe not with a millennium-long vampire dystopia. It is Fox.