In "Kevin (Probably) Saves the World" Jason Ritter, in the title role, plays a failed investment banker and attempted suicide whom life has brought to the spare room in his sister's house in a small town outside of Austin, Texas.
Common to stories with an inspirational bent, sister Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) is a widow — that most sympathetic of marital statuses — a professor with a sullen and obstreperous teenage daughter, Reese (Chloe East). She is also, less usually, a "weapons analyst" of such high standing that a helicopter comes for her when meteors, more supernatural than scientific, strike simultaneously around the world.
As luck and the script would have it, one of these shooting stars lands a short drive from Amy's house, and while Amy is off on her helicopter ride, Kevin and Reese go investigate. Despite his niece's intelligent counsel, Kevin lays a hand on the meteor and is blown comically through the air. When his head clears, or perhaps it hasn't, he is visited by Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory), a "warrior for God."
"In every generation, since the dawn of man, there are 36 righteous souls in the world," Yvette tells Kevin, "and they protect humanity by merely existing. Now, there is only one." Namely, Kevin. This does sound uncomfortably close to "Into every generation a slayer is born," but in other respects we have been down this road to Damascus, with unlikely candidates tasked with or taking on good works or (probably) world-saving missions. (See, for example, "Joan of Arcadia," but also "My Name Is Earl" and "Wonderfalls.") There is some nondenominational, vaguely Judeo-Christian arrangement that, as far as I can tell, requires Kevin to go out and find other potentially righteous souls and activate them with a hug. Yup.
"Should I just register as a sex offender now?" he reasonably inquires.
Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters were writers and producers on the series "Reaper," about a big-box store worker with a sideline in sending escaped demons back to hell, of which "Kevin," premiering Tuesday, is a kind of heavenly inversion. They are also veterans of "Resurrection," also on ABC, in which dead people mysteriously return to take up their old lives. So this quasi-religious ballpark is one whose layout they know.
Yvette tells Kevin he'll need to "build up your spiritual powers through acts of kindness and selflessness," and obviously the good he'll be forced to do will make him a better, more empathetic, more engaged, less negative, cheerier, self-actualizing person. But, all in all, he is not a bad guy to begin with, just a little rumpled and sad and self-involved.
Ritter is a likable, able comic actor who shines in big parts and little ones, though I am not quite sure that he has been perfectly cast here; or rather, I don't buy his back story — the part where he is supposed to have led a life in pursuit of power and money and sex — though I am willing to go forward with him as a mentally disheveled person in a reluctant relationship with a mystical being and earthly life at large. There is the old, old comedy of talking to the person or thing that no one else can see — the ghosts in "Topper," the rabbit in "Harvey," among the classic examples; the invisible friends in "Imaginary Mary," also on ABC, and "Moone Boy" among more recent ones (We are given a sliver of license to think it's all in Kevin's head, even as the show repeatedly demonstrates otherwise.). It's pretty reliable stuff.
The title's parenthetical "Probably" — the series was at one point called "The Gospel of Kevin," which may have been regarded as potentially alienating to some viewers — seems meant to give the series an air of snappy ironic knowingness: We know this is sappy stuff, potentially, but it can be funny, too! Whether "Kevin (Probably) Saves the World" can walk that line is a question later episodes will have to answer. Meanwhile, for all its weird mythology, the values it espouses are simple: Be good, and if you can't be good, act good, which will lead eventually to being good.
'Kevin (Probably) Saves the World'
When: 10 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd