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Believe: Lack of Faith

by Ethan Alter March 11, 2014 6:05 am
<i>Believe</i>: Lack of Faith

How do you make a half-baked idea look like a polished piece of televised craftsmanship? Hire an ace shooter like Alfonso Cuarón to direct it. Exactly a week after picking up a well-deserved Oscar for helming Gravity, the Mexico-born filmmaker takes his talents to the small screen for Believe, a series he created and produced in conjunction with J.J. Abrams. And if you found some of the spiritual hokum in that multi-award winning blockbuster hard to take, be forewarned it plays an even more pronounced role here given that the show's premise is built around a little blonde girl in possession of some heavenly -- or at least otherworldly -- powers.

At least the vastness of Cuarón's digital recreation of outer space, coupled with Sandra Bullock's all-in star turn helped offset Gravity's occasional incursion into eye-rolling territory. Believe doesn't offer the same kind of relief due to its Earth-bound setting and less-than-stellar ensemble. To be fair, the cast does come equipped with a pair of experienced ringers: Delroy Lindo as Winter, the fatherly protector of the aforementioned little blonde girl and Kyle MacLachlan as Skouras, the vaguely nefarious tycoon vaguely pursuing her for vague reasons that have something vaguely to do with her saving the world when she's a few years older. (Remember, this is a J.J. Abrams-backed series; the details are deliberately kept vague until the writers are forced to make something up the Mystery Box opens.)

But these two character actors are peripheral players, ceding much of the focus to impersonal, TV-attractive individuals like Johnny Sequoyah, who plays Bo -- the blonde girl and apparent butterfly magnet (one always happens to appear on the scene whenever she's around) everyone is attempting to protect or kidnap -- and Jake McLaughlin, who plays Tate, the Death Row inmate sprung from prison by Winter for a potentially just-as-lethal career as Bo's bodyguard. Though our first glimpse of Tate is as a bedraggled furball, a close shave and a chance of clothes later and he's going toe-to-toe with lady assassins in close quarters and finding convenient escape hatches in seemingly escape-proof settings. So clearly, the dude has a history of violence, a history that will likely be one of the many storylines the show will keep teasing viewers about under the mistaken impression that we care.

In a sign that Abrams might be growing up (or that Cuarón had final cut on the pilot), one of the potential series-long mysteries is wrapped up in the pilot [Spoiler Warning if you haven't seen it yet]: Winter thought that Tate would be a good pretend-dad to Bo because he's her actual dad! Not that he lets the previously condemned man in on that bit of information yet, probably because that would make Tate less liable to engage in "hilarious" back-and-forth bickering with the tyke, who has a sassy streak to go along with her special abilities, which, based on the premiere at any rate, include the ability to see the future (though not always in a way that's 100 percent accurate or helpful) and scream loud enough to make pigeons do her bidding. Having been placed together, the rest of the show will apparently follow a premise that's part Incredible Hulk and part Kung Fu, as this dynamic duo walks the Earth, staying one step ahead of their nebulous nemesis and helping out those in need along the way. For example, the beneficiary of Bo's services in the premiere is a newbie doctor (Rami Malek) experiencing a serious crisis of faith in his abilities before she turns up his doorstep with a bleeding Tate to stitch back together and a vision of him saving a young woman's life in the not-too-distant-future. So if this whole "saving the world" thing doesn't pan out, Bo's got a great career ahead of her as a life coach.

With so little of narrative interest happening in front of the camera, Cuarón is forced to vamp it up behind the viewfinder, raiding his back catalogue of tricks for eye-catching visual flourishes. That's why the pilot opens with a single-take car crash sequence that echoes his famous continuous trick-shot from Children of Men and climaxes with a fight sequence that resembles the final act of that remarkable film, complete with ragged whip-pans and a greater depth of field that highlights background action. Those touches may make Believe look like something more than your average TV pilot, but rest assured, content-wise this is your average TV pilot… though come to think of it, a number of pilots boast lesser direction, but better-defined stakes, characters and overall purpose than Believe.

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