Coming up on NBC's midseason slate is a promising looking drama called Believe, which comes from J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron and centers on a little girl with extraordinary abilities and the man who's been tasked to protect her. NBC gave us a new look at the series, which doesn't arrive until March.
The series stars Johnny Sequoyah as Bo, a little girl who has some inexplicable extraordinary gifts that aren't entirely in her control. At ten years old, her powers are getting stronger and she finds herself threatened by malevolent forces that wish to use her abilities to control the world. Bo's protector, Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo) petitions a wrongfully imprisoned man, Tate (Jack McLaughlin) to protect young Bo. And so begins an extraordinary journey. The cast also includes Once Upon a Time's Jamie Chung as well as Arian Moayed and Kyle MacLachlan.
Watching the trailer for Believe, I find myself flashing back to NBC's Awake and Fox's Touch, two high-concept dramas — one involving an extraordinary kid — that had really promising starts but didn't go the distance. Touch made it to a second season but floundered from there and was cancelled. Awake never got past Season 1. Let's hope Believe manages to do better than that, but looking at the concept, it's really hard to predict its future. I think it's mainly a matter of execution, which may be stating the obvious, as that pertains to every show on TV. But there is a difference between a thrilling and intriguing concept, which can yield an excellent pilot episode, and a series that's worth looking forward to week after week and actually gets better with time. Just because the pilot is great or the concept has potential doesn't mean the series is going to be a must-watch hit.
Looking specifically at J.J. Abrams' small screen projects, recent examples include Revolution and Alcatraz, both of which had promising starts and interesting concepts, but failed to maintain their audiences. Revolution is currently in its second season, which is a feat Alcatraz didn't reach, but its viewership has declined drastically. As for Alcatraz, I don't think it ever found the right balance between high concept and week-to-week mystery.
Then there's Fox's Almost Human and CBS's Person of Interest, two other Bad Robot series. The former is still too new to really judge its success level, but as far as I'm concerned, the futuristic robot cop show is one of the most entertaining new dramas on network TV this season, and it's only getting better with each episode. As for Person of Interest, it's pulling in a strong 12 million viewers per episode in its current third season. But it seems necessary to note that in the case of both those shows, there's a procedural element that viewers seem to gravitate toward. Each episode features some kind of mystery or challenge to be dealt with, which is typically resolved at the end of the hour. It's a formula that's working really well for dramas that have managed to find the right balance, as it merges a high concept premise with some serialized elements but delivers a weekly dose of satisfaction through its procedural side. (See also Sleepy Hollow). Judging by the trailer -- and this could be an inaccurate assumption, I admit -- Believe will lean more toward a serialized structure, similarly to Touch, with the overlaying story arc being the primary focus each week. If that proves to be the case, this series may find it challenging to build its audience.
All of the above said, just as a pilot isn't always an accurate indication of how a series is going to operate, neither is a trailer. It's entirely possible that the format of this series won't be entirely centered on protecting the little girl. Or that it will and it'll find its stride early enough to capture and maintain its audience better than other serialized dramas have done in recent years. As a fan of both Abrams and Cuaron, and having seen the thrilling new trailer, I want to like this show. So I'm going to approach this one optimistically in the hopes that the series measures up to its concept's potential.
Believe premieres on NBC on Monday, March 10 after The Voice.
Will Believe be a hit?