High-strung parental anxiety is not limited to obsessing over organic baby food or pushing teens to pick up that fourth AP class. Kids are scary, as writers including Henry James (“The Turn of the Screw”), Ray Bradbury (“The Small Assassin”) and Stephen King (“Children of the Corn”) like to remind us. And as summer approaches, they will soon be everywhere, demanding new amusements, staring at their screens, speaking incomprehensible shorthand and getting in our stuff.
All of which ABC’s new supernatural/sci-fi series exploits to fine summer fun effect.
Full of doe-eyed children talking to invisible and possibly sinister forces in the ceiling, the shrubbery and the night sky, “The Whispers” gets as much mileage out of the Steven Spielberg hand-stamp (he’s an executive producer) as possible. But are we talking “Poltergeist,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “Transformers”? Do the kids need saving or do we?
When little Harper (Abby Ryder Fortson) starts talking about her new friend Drill, her mom thinks it’s cute, until the game Drill is playing with Harper has serious consequences. (This is me trying to avoid spoilers, but can I just say that no mom in her right mind would allow a treehouse that high?)
Enter FBI agent Claire Bennigan (Lily Rabe), who specializes in crimes involving children. Though still recovering from the death of her soldier husband and the recent hearing loss of her son Henry (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), Claire remembers another crime involving an imaginary friend named Drill, and soon, ol’ Drill is seeming not so imaginary after all.
Not that the adults get it. Lights flicker, phone reception fails, TV screens turn on for No Good Reason, yet all the grown-ups’ focus is on the presence of a requisitely scruffy and requisitely tattooed man (Milo Ventimiglia) who also has a connection to the crimes. But the kids know, and we know, that Drill is not some scruffy guy.
Discovering what he is and what he plans drives Claire’s actions and, indeed, the show, which takes place in and around our nation’s capital and All That Implies.
The kids trend hyper-cute, and a B-plot involving Claire’s relationship with a Defense Department operative (Barry Sloane) seems to exist only so she can have access to the Defense Department, but Rabe, a regular on “American Horror Story,” knows how to keep the crazy plates all spinning in the right direction while she attempts to possibly save the world.
More important, executive producer Soo Hugh, who has written for “Under the Dome” and the regrettable “Zero Hour,” understands the eerie otherness of children. Are they listening to us or just biding their time before they take over the world?
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)