I will happily watch the actor Steve Zahn ("That Thing You Do," "Treme") in just about anything. I have had cause to regret this willingness in the past — never because of the actor, who sits easily on the screen — but not in the case of "The Crossing," which debuts April 2 on ABC. It is watchable, even diverting television; but it is definitely good Zahn.
(The pilot has also been playing online since March 20, suggesting an attempt to build an audience ahead of the reviews.)
Hundreds of bodies, 47 of them alive, wash up on a strip of beach in the vicinity of an Oregon fishing village, with no crashed airliner or sunken freighter to account for their presence. Zahn plays the sheriff, Jude Ellis — it's nice to see him in a central, solid, essentially heroic role, not a spot he usually lands — and, naturally enough, he gets involved.
Also, naturally enough, his involvement is curtailed by a higher authority in the person of Sandrine Holt's Homeland Security agent Emma Ren.They knock heads in the way that local and federal law enforcement have done since someone first thought of putting them into the same story. (I think eventually they are going to have to work together, and that it will probably feel satisfying when they do.)
The rapidly emerging twist — coming so fast that one could not call it a spoiler — is that these mysterious arrivals are refugees not from some other place but some other time. They have come from an America 180 years from now, a dysotpian future that will make our relatively less dystopian present seem like the promised land.
They drop words like "extermination" and "holocaust" to explain their haste to go forward into the past. Perhaps if they had been a little less hasty, they would have aimed for some year other than 2018, not the most propitious time for wretched refuse to teem upon the American shore. When one refugee says, "This is a different place … this is the America of old. … Everyone has rights here, no matter where they're from," it is not clear whether we are to take this ironically.
Will "The Crossing" have anything interesting to say about this? In a time when refugee crises are many, and many Americans (and not Americans alone) look at immigrants through dun-colored glasses, not to examine these issues would seem a sort of dereliction of duty.
There are a few lines that acknowledge the current conversation, to use a polite term. "Math says they'll be some bad actors, so watch them closely," Ren says of the 47 asylum seekers, seeming to support the notion that open borders are in an invitation to crime and terrorism. "All we want is a better life, same as your parents wanted for you," an asylum seeker tells Ren, echoing hopeful new Americans since even before the states were united.
Created by Dan Dworkin and Jay Battie (who developed or helped develop the television versions of "Scream" and "Matador"), "The Crossing" is very much the sort of sci-fi serial that CBS has programmed over the summer for the past several years, with the extra layer of visual polish that characterizes ABC product.
It is nicely assembled and well cast — besides Holt and Zahn, there are, notably, Rick Gomez as Ellis' deputy, and Simone Kessell as a time traveler out on her own. All are appealing enough to want to know better, and do a good job selling the meat-and-potatoes dialogue as fine dining, distracting you a little from the fact that most scenes head just where you'd expect. Even the fact that Ellis is a divorced dad and is in this small town because of trouble he had in a bigger one feels just shy of inevitable.
Indeed, at one point, watching two characters meet clandestinely on a foggy bridge, I began to suspect that I actually seen this show before; even some particular lines sounded familiar. I don't put it down to déjà vu, at least not in the neurological sense: The components of "The Crossing" are in fact familiar — perhaps unavoidably so, 123 years after H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" started this party, and after 840 episodes of "Doctor Who," three "Back to the Future" films and a whole mess of "The Terminator."
When the news comes (spoiler alert, maybe) that the "genetic overlords" of the late 22nd century might have some proprietary interest in the early 21st, it registers almost as a disappointment.
Still, the fact that we have covered similar ground many times before suggests, correctly, that it is not hard to go over it again.
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd