How good is “Believe,” the new sci-fi/supernatural drama from producers/directors J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” Star Trek) and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity)? Sadly not quite as innovative or entertaining as you might expect a show from two such superstar creators to be.
Here’s the pitch-meeting version of the premise: Cute li’l girl has psychic superpowers, and everyone in the world wants a piece of that action. Ten-year-old Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) is like all the X-Men rolled into one. She’s got mind-reading, telekinesis, precognition, pigeon control, the whole shebang. As the show begins, she watches her adoptive parents die in a (not very accidental) auto accident. Bo ends up in a hospital, watched over by a kindly doctor (Rami Malek, whom I just dubbed “Young Ray Liotta” in Need For Speed). Meanwhile a mysterious man named Winter (Delroy Lindo, Get Shorty) helps spring wrongly accused killer Tate (up-and-coming scruffy hunk Jake McLaughlin) from death row. For reasons that are never quite explained to him (or us), Tate is suddenly tasked with becoming little Bo’s new bodyguard. Which is a timely thing, because evil billionaire Kyle MacLachlan (Mr. “Twin Peaks” himself) and his crazy/sexy assassin lady (Sienna Guillory from the Resident Evil films) are hot on Bo’s tail.
“Believe” spends all of 10 minutes setting up its good-guy conspiracy vs. bad-guy conspiracy premise. Undoubtedly the show has got plenty of mysteries to unveil. (Who’s this girl? Where’d she get her powers? Why does everyone want her? What’s with the butterflies?). But the basic setup is dirt simple. It’s Stephen King’s Firestarter crossed with a stereotypical episode of “The X-Files.” With luck it might just hit the right balance of “easy-to-grasp” and “intriguing enough for mainstream audiences.” But for genre fans hungry for a deeply conceptualized mythology, the show feels way too lightweight.
McLaughlin is cartoonishly surly while Sequoyah (dig that Hollywood hippie name, kid) is cartoonishly cute. Their back-and-forth buddy cop banter (Her: “You smell.” Him: “I hate kids.”) fills the gaps between chase sequences and shoot-outs. Based on the pilot episode (which was directed apace by Cuarón), it looks like our mismatched duo will spend every week being chased by the bad guys while performing inspirational good deeds for random strangers “The Fugitive”/“Kung Fu”/“The Incredible Hulk”/“The A-Team”/“Touched by an Angel”/“Person of Interest”-style.
“Believe” boasts a lot of similarities to Kiefer Sutherland’s “mysteriously superpowered kid saves the world” series “Touch.” (Which was canceled by FOX last year.) Then again, Hollywood has been big on cutesy genius kids ever since the New Age movement started pushing the idea that your troubled offspring have “indigo” superpowers from the future or whatever. Whether “Believe” sticks around long enough to actually reveal the source of our main moppet’s powers remains to be seen. For now, I believe I’ll reserve judgment.