Tuesday, March 11, 2014

In Which I Review Believe (1x1)

Welcome to the world of J. J. Abrams. Ok, I guess that's not strictly true. It's more like, welcome to the world of Alfonso Cuaron with J.J. Abrams sticking his name on the end as an executive producer in order to give more heft and pedigree to the project because an Academy Award winner wasn't good enough so let's bring in the guy who knows how to quickly launch a TV show. I guess their strategy worked given my opening sentence. Well played, NBC. At any rate, J.J. is probably the more well known of the two when it comes to TV. In the past 15 years or so J.J. has managed to launch, direct, write, and produce TV shows that even if you haven't seen them, you know of them, all with a varying degree of success. I call this the J. J. Phenomenon. This often seen television experience involves Mr. Abrams swooping down to some unsuspecting studio in Hollywood, dropping off what appears to be a really great idea (because there is no denying that he does have great ideas), getting the studio super excited about the idea of having a hit...and then leaving. Sometimes, he doesn't even need to come up with the idea, just show up at a meeting (maybe he bring the bagels), sign a piece of paper saying they can use his name so long as he is credited with Executive Producer before he jumps back on to his mega jet (I assume he has one) to go direct a movie or something. Examples, you ask? 

Felicity--creator, director, writer, and executive producer. Pretty successful, even if it will only be remembered for that one time Keri Russel chopped off all her hair and made the world weep. 

Alias--creator, director, writer and executive producer. Highly successful spy drama, until J.J got bored and left and things got strange (seriously, Vaughn wasn't Vaughn? No.) 

LOST--co-creator, director, writer and executive producer. One of the most successful and highly acclaimed TV shows in the past 10 years. J.J. left fairly early on, and I give almost no credit to him for its success--that was ALL Dameon and Carlton. 

Fringe--co-creator, director, writer, and executive produce. Had very little to do with the show after it got launched. A cult classic with little commercial success. 

Revolution--executive producer. Currently struggling to get to a third season. 

Why am I doing this? I am trying to show that just because a show has an awesome name backing it, doesn't mean it is worthy of your time. Just because the show carries the Abrams name doesn't mean it's actually good. And Believe? Is it going to fall victim to this same curse? 

 Is Believe anything new? I'm not so sure. It seems to be amalgam of Heroes (save the cheerleader, save the world), Fringe (a special girl with super powers), and the X-Men (baddies vs goodies, and from the upcoming promos, special children at a special school). It's not necessarily a bad thing as all three of those shows/comics are good in their own right. But the plot of Believe can be radically reduced to parts of each of those to make a whole. To simplify further: a young girl, who moves from foster parents to foster parents, named Bo has the typical "special" powers--ability to see bits of the future, to read people's emotions and thoughts, and apparently the ability to scream really loudly in order to have Kamikaze birds attack her enemies (I really don't know what that was about). I'll give the show credit for writing the girl as less annoying than she could be. Instead of being your typical scared, precious china-doll-esque special child, they made her very kid-like. She asks too many questions, she's nosy, and seems to enjoy being a pest. Bo also has a habit of wandering off so that will be fun. Bo seems to have control over her powers and has had them from a young age. The baddies who are after her have for a long time, given that her foster parents (who didn't make it past the first 10 minuets of the show) knew that people might come for her.

The "good guys" are also after her, trying to protect Bo because if the "baddies" get a hold of her, they can control the world. First, I kinda hate when TV does this whole "this one singular person is responsible for the safety of THE ENTIRE POPULATION." I mean, really? Being the Savior of a group of people (Emma Swan) is fine, but unless you're an alien from Gallifrey, you shouldn't be solely responsible for the well being of every living inhabitant on Earth. And as of right now, I don't get how Bo could possible control the world. Her powers are cool (I guess) but they're nothing to write home about. What's she going to do? Scream at the world until it does her bidding? And further, if there is anything constant in TV, it's that the good guys aren't all that good so I don't trust that Winter (head good guy) and Mulan Channing have Bo's best interests at heart. And for a shadowy heretofore unexplained good guy group, they seem both well funded and powerful (staged prison breakout) while at the same being unable to protect Bo for longer than 20 minuets. The plan? Give the kid with the super powers to a death row inmate.

Winter in disguise of a minister comes to give the last rights to Tate, a man with a ticking clock who insists that he is innocent of whatever crimes he was convicted of that led him to the Green Mile. The reason why Winter is breaking out Tate? Because he believes in him. Pretty shady reason if you ask me. "I believe that you did not commit these crimes that landed you seconds away from death and now I shall give you this little girl to protect. Oh by the way, she can control the world if she wanted." Even Tate isn't sure what to make of these declarations, though he'll take the escape route and the cash for protecting Bo. Tate seems to be mostly annoyed by Bo, though you can already tell that she'll win him over. Tate will come to care for the young wunderkind, care for her as his own, and that's when Winter will drop the big bomb on Tate: she's your daughter. Of course she is. Did they HAVE to be father/daughter? Wouldn't it be much more interesting and intriguing if Tate became a substitute parent who really came to care for Bo? And then you introduce her biological parents and the drama writes itself. They should have thought this one through more; the relationship could have been just as special without adding in the unneccesary biological family aspect.

The Pilot felt all over the place, but that's just very J.J. There were a lot of threads trying to come together over the course of an hour, but I'm not sure it was very successful. I think there were characters who will not be appearing ever again but were only introduced to let Bo show off her powers but it felt like these secondary characters (the Doctor for instance) were more developed than the main characters. For example, what do I know about Tate now? Not much. He was a death row inmate who says he's innocent but I can't get a feel on if he's a hero or just a guy who happened to be related to the superhero so he got wrapped into the plot. But the Doctor is a kind caring man who takes care of his dying father despite the obvious family drama in the past. His father probably didn't want him to become a doctor and remained belligerent and adamant that his son was failing him. He has daddy issues but puts his job and duty first. He has a kind soul which allows him to be open to finding love with Agnes at the end (as predicted by Bo). And I don't even know the Doctor's name, but I just gave a very brief psychological analysis of him. Mixed in with the goodies were the baddies who received marginal screen time. The head of the baddies and the head of the goodies have obvious history as they apparently still call each other to gloat over victories (Magneto and Xavier, anyone?). And each of them have a tough-as-nails henchman to do their bidding. The baddies henchman (I seriously have no idea what her name is) has an affinity for snapping necks and wielding guns inside a hospital but was taken down by birds.

So what's my final verdict? Well despite the more negative aspects I've been harping on, I'm giving it a very tentative check it out. A lot of the issues I've been discussing are also just "pilot" issues that get hammered out in subsequent episodes. Character development will come for Tate and Bo, I know. The mythology and world will be explored more and I'm sure we'll get answers. It just doesn't feel like anything new or exciting, but it's not so dull that I don't want to watch or at least try to watch. The show already has some internal behind the scenes drama with show runners coming and going which doesn't bode well, but it's possible that the vision of the show is becoming more concrete. However, if the second episode doesn't give me a bit more to work with or really draw me in, then I'm going to write it off.

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