Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pilot Review: Believe

Believe (Sundays at 9:00 on NBC)

Hopefully with the premiere of Believe out of the way, we can finally stop seeing that damn commercial of the little blonde girl screaming at a bunch of birds. That's about the most positive thing I can say about the latest from J.J. Abrams, whose name once connoted potential greatness and now just clues us in to the fact that the series will probably be a good vs. bad conspiracy thriller, and recent Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuaron. Because aside from that, Believe is about as mediocre as they come, a confusing mess of mythical imagery, unexplained plot points, and absurd action-movie dialogue.

Everything starts off just fine, if a little unoriginal. A title card reads: "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World"... um, "A girl lives among us. She will change the world. If she survives." It's just the right combination of ominous and pretentious. Cut to that girl, Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), in the back of a car, which inevitably is forced off a cliff by an assassin (Sienna Guillory of the Resident Evil films). Her parents die and she ends up in a hospital. Meanwhile, Winter (Delroy Lindo) and Channing (Jamie Chung) break a death row inmate out of prison and charge him with being Bo's protector. Why? Because. Then we find out the assassin is working for Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Desperate Housewives), and he is a Bad Guy. That makes Winter and Channing the Good Guys, which we find out when they literally call themselves "The Good Guys." Anyway, the inmate, Tate (Jake McLaughlin), gets Bo out of the hospital and fights with the assassin a lot. Apparently it's because Bo has special powers, like mind reading and fortune telling and making birds swarm lady assassins. There are like four more car chases and fight scenes, and Tate storms around a lot, calling Bo a brat and a pain in the ass. Then he gets shot, and a random doctor from the beginning of the episode shows up again so that Bo can convince him he's not the failure he thinks he is... or something. Then Bo and Tate get on a bus. To help people... or run away from bad guys. Not sure which, to be honest.

If this summary confused you, welcome to the club. Believe makes no sense.

It's clear that NBC thinks the best thing Believe has going for it is the direction by Cuaron. But I have to say... I think I must be one of the very few who finds him to be overrated, because I didn't find much of interest here (or in his recent Oscar win for Gravity, honestly). I find him to be a very obvious director. Yes, his use of long takes is nice, but he doesn't really have a mastery of subtle imagery. Remember how glaring the fetus/embryo imagery was in Gravity? Well, there's apparently a lot more where that came from, and it's all on display in Believe from one of the very first scenes' close-up of a rosary (Get it?! The show is called Believe!) to the butterfly in Bo's hospital room (transformation!). Cuaron is a rather heavy-handed director. He should have spent more time coaxing good performances out of his stilted, one-note, dead-faced actors, none of whom help elevate the already-weak material above anything but middling-at-best.

It doesn't help that Cuaron is trying his best to film a really dim script, which he also helped to write. Not only is the plot a convoluted mess, as you can tell from the mess of a synopsis above, but the dialogue is just horrible. The way Bo is written, it's like she has special needs. She speaks in clipped, five-word-or-less sentences and at a level far beneath that of a 10 year old. When Tate finally calls her out on her bratty behavior, she yells, "You're mean! And you're being stupid! And you have anger problems!" What kid talks like that? Especially one who just seconds earlier managed to find an internet cafe on her own, pay for her usage time, and look up an address pertaining to a vision she had. This girl isn't stupid, but you wouldn't know that by the way she's written. She's seen it all, including the death of twenty former protectors, yet she talks like she would have trouble passing third grade. Then there's the host of action-movie one-liners like, "I'm here to break you out!" and "Our location has been compromised!" Plus, there's the most ludicrous line of the entire hour, one that not only is silly in its own right but sets up one of the series biggest problems: "We don't do guns... We're the good guys." Ugh. What a dumb limit to put on yourselves as the "good guys." The enemy can have guns, but the good guys are above them. That's going to make for some seriously uninteresting fight scenes.

And they put that limit on the one faction because Believe is really just a lazy mythical allegory. The Good Guys represent faith and belief, while the Bad Guys represent greed and corruption, and it's all funneled through the fight over the Savior: Bo. Because she has supernatural powers that aren't fully explained or understood. Does any of this sound familiar?

I just couldn't possibly be more over this pilot. There's nothing redeeming about it. Poor performances, annoying characters, messy plotting, and a really friggin' stupid late-episode twist (oh, and a guitar sing-a-long... not even kidding) make Believe one of the least enjoyable pilots I've watched all season.

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