Alfonso Cuaron & Bad Robot Concoction
Is Hard To Believe
By Andy Greene
When news hit last year that Alfonso Cuaron, the visionary mastermind behind GRAVITY and CHILDREN OF MEN, was teaming up with J.J. Abrams and his production company Bad Robot on a high-concept show involving superpowers, it was hard not for the nerd inside me to do somersaults. But after delays, an underwhelming cast (on the surface) and a story seemingly jam-packed with every sci-fi/superhero cliché, my enthusiasm decidedly lagged. While Cuaron has never disappointed, it’s time to wonder if perhaps Bad Robot’s TV reputation is overstated. I loved ALIAS, LOST, FRINGE and PERSON OF INTEREST and along with J.J.’s big budget franchises like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and STAR TREK, it seemed like the company could do no wrong. Then UNDERCOVERS (cancelled, mediocre, forgotten), ALCATRAZ (samesies), REVOLUTION (mediocre at best, on thin ice) and ALMOST HUMAN (mediocre is a nice way to put this show, also likely to be cut) happened. A TV show with the Bad Robot stamp on it is no longer a guarantee of quality or ratings. NBC always seems starved for a hit, and pairing Alfonso Cuaron and Abrams together on a show about a young girl named Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) with extraordinary gifts seemed like a no brainer. After the first two episodes of the show, however, and I’ve already mostly lost interest.
Bo is a powerful ten year old girl with telekinetic abilities, but also with other mystical, supernatural talents she and we have yet to discover. She’s an empath, capable of sensing people’s emotions, while also having a knack with the future, and an affinity for pigeons. Because of these talents, she’s the most wanted asset in the country, with several different groups going after her. Who can we trust? Anyone? Do we care?
Bo has never met her real parents, and has been rifling through foster parents, none of them lasting, before she’s tracked down by the shadowy, sinister bad guys. They seem to be led by Roman Skouras, played by Kyle MacLachlan (TWIN PEAKS, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER). The show wants us to be confused by his nature, since he appears to care for Bo and wants her to be safe. But anyone sending killers and mercenaries after a child isn’t a nice guy. The show has created a Charles Xavier and Magneto dynamic between Skouras and Milton Winter (played by GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS’ Delroy Lindo), while hoping to keep it unclear as to which one is which. Skouras, after all, is the one with a group of gifted children. While Skouras has a stronghold full of kids with telekinesis, including a dude who builds a lion out of bricks, something that blows away anything we’ve seen from Bo to this point, but of course Bo is the strongest and the reason this show exists, so Skouras must have her back. Milton Winter appears to have Bo’s best interests at heart. He genuinely loves her (they have an adorable handshake), he met her while at the CIA, and rescued her from suspect experimentation, and he’s gathered a team of fellow mutinous CIA agents, like Channing (Jamie Chung of ONCE UPON A TIME), to help keep the girl safe. But after Bo’s latest set of foster parents don’t even last two weeks before their necks get snapped, he boosts a man from death row to take care of Bo. Meet Tate (WARRIOR’s Jack McLaughlin), who may or may not be a murderer/criminal (he claims he’s innocent of course), but definitely isn’t much of a fighter, tactician or father figure. He’s not much of anything, and there’s seemingly no good reason why Winter has tabbed him as Bo’s caretaker. Thankfully, we learn that Tate actually IS Bo’s real father, giving us an answer that sort of makes sense. This also makes it funny (?) when Tate yells at a stranger on a bus: “She’s not my daughter!” Now he’s just a creeper.
Over the first two episodes, it’s clear that BELIEVE will be another case-of-the-week show, as Tate and Bo bounce from safe house to safe house to avoid detection, and in each new location, Bo will use her gifts and overwhelmingly kind nature to help random strangers in need. She keeps a talented Doctor from quitting his job in the pilot, and gives a boatload of cash to a single mother to pay for her kid’s leukemia treatment (after the obligatory moneymaking casino scene). It’s melodramatic, schmaltzy stuff, but fairly effective. This show is about believing in yourself, and believing in others, after all. I think that’s why it’s called BELIEVE.
Speaking of, BELIEVE is filled with moments that require you to take a leap of faith, but not because of its high-concept. Because it’s dumb. Bo and Tate hide from police attention at a bus station bathroom, and presumably do so for hours. Not one single person knocks on the door (does no one in Atlantic City need to pee?), and somehow, Tate has also secured a razor to shave his head without leaving the facilities.
Later, Bo orders a milkshake from the casino waitress Bonnie, and immediately stuns her by knowing Bonnie’s kid’s name (Jesse), his age and that he’s sick. Instead of running away terrified, Bonnie randomly picks Bo and Tate up after her shift and take them home to meet Jesse, her son. Clearly Bo has this special magnetism or quality about her, but it’s all too convenient (the show picks and chooses when Bo is powerful arbitrarily). Especially since you’d think Bonnie would’ve seen all of the news coverage on Bo and Tate’s arrest warrants.
Bo wants to stay and live with Winter, and we never get a satisfying reason why this can’t happen. While Winter clearly has a big target on his back…his choice to protect Bo is based only on DNA/”faith”/TV show logic, and it involves a man who doesn’t know Bo or like children, and he’s a federal fugitive who was formerly on death row, so it’s not like he’s under the radar. Plus, he’s clearly far less capable (for now). I get that BELIEVE will be about his journey from dick to hero/father, but aside from “plot” reasons, there’s no reason why they should separate from Winter and his team. It’s easier to track a larger group, sure, but not when they have more money, technology and intelligence, and know what they’re fighting against. Instead they just throw Tate, knowing nothing, into the blender, and wonder why he can’t take care of Bo. If they’re just going to be monitoring them to save their ass repeatedly anyways, it’s stupid.
To make matters more difficult, the FBI has made finding Tate a top priority, and have put out an amber alert on Bo Adams. Elizabeth Farrell (Trieste Kelly Dunn) leads the task force. She’s debriefed about the peculiars of the case by Roman Skouras, who apparently works with the FBI as a private citizen, despite the bureau possessing little, if any trust for the man. So it’s a messy cluster$%@#, especially when you factor in the practically nameless, vaguely threatening mercenaries that Skouras hires each episode.
It’s all a bit of a mess, and while THE FUGITIVE/ENEMY OF THE STATE meets X-MEN concept has promise, there’s nothing that makes it stand out over the first two episodes. At the end of the pilot, Bo tells Tate that “it’s going to be okay,” and that essentially sums up the quality level of the show thus far.
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