Review: ‘Believe’ pits good vs. evil over a mystical child
“Believe,” which premieres Monday on NBC (moving to Sundays thereafter), is a paranormal adventure story — a romance, whose tendencies toward new-age messianic pomposity are kept in check by the B-movie flamboyance of its characters. Just what part of this is intentional, I can’t say. But if the show were less pulpy — if it offered its grab bag of old tropes as jewels rather than as cupcakes — it would also be less good.
Big names are attached. Alfonso Cuarón, now combing his hair by the light of his “Gravity” Oscar, co-created the series and directed its pilot; J.J. Abrams, who one day will run every science-fiction franchise, is an executive producer.
As with Abrams’ other NBC series, “Revolution,” “Believe” concerns a band of heroes, some righteous, some in need of redemption, on the move in a dangerous world. Here, the world is our pre-apocalyptic present; but in both series the fate of all things is invested in a young person.
Bo is the name of this chosen one. Johnny Sequoyah, who plays her, has a slightly detached, out-of-tune quality that may just be an effect of her limitations as an actress, but it works well for a telepathic, telekinetic character whose abnormal life includes the periodic assassination of her caregivers.
Good and evil are represented with Manichaean clarity. “We’re the good guys,” Delroy Lindo’s Milton Winter actually says. (And they actually are.) Winter is Bo’s senior protector; his team, apostle-humble, meets in empty warehouses and coffee shops, pays with cash, eschews firearms.
“We’re not superheroes, but we are dedicated and hard-working people,” he tells Bo’s reluctant new bodyguard, a sprung-from-death-row innocent man named Tate (Jake McLaughlin). He will be Moses Pray to her Addie; if you don’t recognize the “Paper Moon” reference, go find that 1973 Peter Bogdanovich movie and watch it now.
Competing for possession of the mystical child is Kyle MacLachlan’s gazillionaire villain, named Roman Skouras to encompass all of classical antiquity. He has a henchwoman, played by Sienna Guillory, whose absence from the official main cast list seems to say, sadly, we will not see her again. She brings cool, nasty energy to the pilot.
Cuarón is good at action too, as the movie-watching world knows, and the best moments in “Believe” are the ones in which the camera does the talking: a tumbling car crash seen through the windshield; a long, fluid, choreographed sequence in a hospital in which rescuer and kidnapper compete for possession of Bo.
Although there are Big Questions attached to the premise, the series promises to be less about any long arc than the life-changing encounters Bo and Tate will have on their mutually irritable, mutually protective, comically bantering way. When “Believe” tries to be meaningful, it’s also at its most obvious, and the show could prove to be too willfully touching for its own good. But it doesn’t seem impossible to me that they could get the mix right. My crystal ball stays cloudy.
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)
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