Review

ABC Family's 'Stitchers' takes its sci-fi premise too seriously

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
Is ABC Family's #Stitchers sci-fi or sci-fi satire? It's hard to tell in this new crime-solving show

"Fringe" meets "iZombie" for a meaningless summer hookup. Result: "Stitchers," an ABC Family series so tonally ambivalent — satire or sincere? — that it winds up playing more as an audition tape for its various stars than an actual show.

The pilot, premiering Tuesday, opens music-video hot with Taylor Swift in a cat suit watching a couple in bed and generally having what appears to be a dream-state experience.

Except it's neither Taylor Swift nor a dream. Meet Kirsten (Emma Ishta), a thin, blond CalTech grad student and walking cliché. Young, brilliant and beautiful, she possesses both a Dark Past and a psycho-social disorder that renders her incapable of saying anything that isn't super-rude.

According to modern canon, this makes her a perfect candidate for crime-solving. (See also "Elementary," "The Blacklist," "Scorpion" and, you know, Television In General.) After a dust-up with her equally brilliant but relatively normal roommate Camille (Allison Scagliotti), Kirsten is recruited by a government agency so super-double-duper covert it operates in a miles-deep sub-basement of L.A.'s Chinatown. (Presumably, it's been retrofitted.)

There, the no-nonsense Maggie (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) oversees an alternate-universe cast of "The Big Bang Theory" as they attempt to prevent and/or solve crimes by entering the cooling consciousness of the newly dead. As adorable brainiac, Cameron (Kyle Harris) informs Kirsten in tommy-gun cadence that the brain is just a machine and the information is all still there for a certain amount of time — blah, blah, blah — this particular bit of scientific sketchiness is now so boilerplate that creator Jeffrey Alan Schechter just skids right through it.

For our viewing pleasure, however, his version of psychological necrophilia involves Kirsten donning a black body suit — "we began with nude but there was push-back," says adorable computer whiz Linus (Ritesh Rajan) — and getting into a big tank of water. (Why is a big tank of water always involved?)

There she is connected, possibly via ether cable, to a dead person, allowing her to wander around in his or her memories.

It's all completely ridiculous and derivative, which Schechter is quick to acknowledge. Indeed, the second-best thing about "Stitchers" is its game if not quite successful attempt to straddle sci-fi and sci-fi satire. With her robotic mien, Ishta's Kirsten is so shut down it often reads as a joke, while Cameron froths with Spockian snobbery and many geek references. (In the second episode, he vows "by Grabthar's Hammer," a reference to the straight-up sci-fi satire "Galaxy Quest.")

The first-best thing about the show is its cast, who all show promise far beyond the limits of their roles here. Scagliotti especially needs to be in a show that's going to last more than a summer season, which "Stitchers" probably will not.

There is most certainly a satire to be made of our current obsessions with brilliant but socially stunted heroes and digitally amped detection — is there nothing we can't do with an iPad? — but "Stitchers" takes itself too seriously for that. Kirsten is on a quest to solve crimes, find her father and become more human.

That's a show we've all seen before in versions better than this.

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'Stitchers'

Where: Family

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)

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