[Over the past year, Film Dispenser has provided recurring in-depth analysis of television series like The Killing, True Detective, Justified, Homeland, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. With so many new platforms offering original content (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) in addition to the networks we have come to know and love (HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX), Film Dispenser has created a new column called Pass the Remote that will appear several times a month to provide reviews and analysis of television series that we will not be following on a week-to-week basis. Our goal is to help you make more efficient use of your viewing time. Let us watch the bad shows so that you don’t have to and allow us to pass along some suggestions for content we think you will enjoy.]
For its first four minutes, Believe is unlike any major network television show you have ever seen. In one long unbroken take, we see a couple driving through the rain with their young daughter in the backseat. Another motorist closes in on them from behind and gives their car a nudge toward the guardrail. The husband yells, “It’s them. They’ve found her.” Then the car careens off the road and tumbles down an embankment, coming to rest upside down.
The camera bobs and weaves around the passenger compartment, threading its way between the injured bodies of the occupants. The first person view leaves the car via the shattered windshield and surveys the scene of the accident before returning to the family dangling upside down from their seatbelts. It’s some bravura camerawork. Then the name Alfonso Cuaron appears as the director of the episode, and we all understand what we’ve just seen: cinematic visuals on the small screen from the Oscar-winning director of Gravity.
Unfortunately that intense opening sequence gives way to the bland ideas and obvious execution that we’ve come to expect from mainstream entertainment. Believe slowly descends into the well-worn tropes and recycled plotlines that network television offers viewers as a steady diet. We have a shadowy quasi-governmental unit led by Roman Skouras (Kyle McLachlan) who is pursuing this mysterious little girl, Bo (Johnny Sequoyah). Why does Skouras have a strange accent and wear a tuxedo? You’ll probably find out if you continue to watch this series, but in the pilot, he looks like he’s just a cat short of being ready for an audition as a Bond villain.
There’s an equally shadowy quasi-governmental unit who is protecting Bo led by Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo). Our anti-hero, Tate, is absurdly liberated from death row in Georgia and drafted by Winter’s squad to be Bo’s personal bodyguard. These kinds of hackneyed developments always spawn dozens of questions that can’t be logically answered. If you have the resources and ability to break a guy out of a maximum security prison, why can’t you just guard the little girl yourselves? Why would you choose someone who has been spending 23 and 1/2 hours a day in a prison cell to provide professional quality protection to such an important child? Why not just hire a former Secret Service agent? You get the idea.
Along the way, Bo encounters a weary emergency room doctor who doubts his capabilities after the death of a patient under his care. The little girl predicts that he has greatness in his future, and he will heal many people during his career, if he’ll only “believe” in himself. And sure enough, her vision comes to pass. The proceedings aren’t as eye-rollingly bad as that summary sounds, but this paranormal drama from producer J.J. Abrams plays like an episode of Touched by an Angel with a dash of Alias and a splash of The X-Files.
Delroy Lindo does his best to ground the proceedings with his earnestness and credibility, but the script is full of poorly-rendered characters who constantly utter dialogue clunkers. Jake McLaughlin unintentionally portrays Tate the reluctant bodyguard as a petulant teenager. For a man who was supposedly digesting his last meal on death row, he sure is angry that he’s been forced into this mission. He whines and yells when he should be kissing the feet of his colleagues for saving him from his appointment with a lethal injection.
Even the action sequences border on laughable. Tate finds himself tangling off and on with a female Australian assassin. She weighs about a hundred pounds and looks like she can barely lift the prop .45 automatic she wields. She’s so petite that her “lethal” martial arts maneuvers look like beautiful ballet moves instead. Don’t get me wrong. You can have a credible female assassin as a character, but you should cast someone like Gina Carano (Haywire) in the role.
In the final analysis, Believe is not an awful show. It simply brings nothing new to the table. If you’ve seen any Marvel films or paranormal television series (The X-Files, Grimm, Supernatural), then you’ve likely seen enough shadowy organizations chasing children with strange abilities. This concept has been around even longer than that. Just substitute David Keith and Drew Barrymore for Jake McLaughlin and Johnny Sequoyah, and you have the 1984 motion picture Firestarter. Thirty years later, the idea is far from fresh.
With all the content available out there, I can’t see viewers giving an hour each week to Believe.
5 out of 10
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.