TV series that follow The Voice on Monday night tend to get a bit of a boost, and it's likely that NBC had that in mind when they set the premiere date for Believe, a promising new drama about an extraordinary little girl and the man who's tasked with protecting her. Factor in the premise and the involvement of J.J. Abrams and Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron as executive producers, and Believe already has a lot going for it. The pilot episode plays to our emotions, mixing thrills, a bit of mystery and a story with potential, if it chooses the right direction.
Created by Mark Friedman and Alfonso Cuaron -- the latter of whom directed the pilot -- Believe begins by introducing us to young Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a sweet little girl with abilities beyond her control, who's being pursued by dangerous people - the kind of people who are willing to kill if it means getting their hands on her. Enter Jake McLaughlin's Tate, a wrongly-convicted death row inmate whose time is up, or so he thinks. A prison break gives Tate a second chance and in exchange he's tasked with the duty of protecting Bo, which he reluctantly accepts. And so begins what could be a great duo of characters, as this former prisoner accepts his new responsibilities and comes to understand what's so extraordinary about this little girl.
The bigger picture involves Winter (Delroy Lindo), who seeks to keep Bo safe, though he was once partnered with Kyle MacLachlan's Skouras, one of the people coming after Bo. Jamie Chung is also among the cast, playing Channing, a woman who works with Winter. Sienna Guillory plays Moore, who's trying to track down Bo on behalf of Skouras. These characters and a few others are introduced in the first episode, which offers a bit of chase, some stunty action and a few demonstrations of how Bo's abilities work.
On premise alone, I had two major concerns about this series off the bat. The first was that this little girl would be special and adorable, but lacking personality, as some child TV characters do. In other words, I feared she'd do a lot of placid smiling between demonstrations of her impressive abilities, whatever they may be. But no, in terms of her personality, Bo's actually more or less a normal little girl, apart from the fact that she's had numerous foster parents and is used to being shuffled around. It's what she knows and what she can do that makes her special, and we get some glimpses of that in the series opener. So the first concern I had was quelled with the pilot. Bo is very likable, and Sequoyah handles the role nicely. She also has some great chemistry with Jake McLaughlin, which I expect to be key, given the nature of their characters' relationship.
The other concern I have is related more to the direction of the series, as it'll play out on an episode to episode basis, and only time will tell if this series has what it takes to stick around. Bo is a girl with extraordinary gifts and there are people after her, presumably looking to exploit them for their own gain. Tate's going to try to keep her safe, and being an outlaw himself, there's the added challenge of trying to stay below the radar of the law as well. So there's plenty of conflict here and there's potential for some thrilling drama, but there's nearly as much potential for this series to go off the rails or collapse under the weight of a bigger-bigger picture, especially as it relates to this Skouras character and the extent and use of Bo's abilities. We've seen plenty of dramas begin with great premises but eventually wander in a direction that veers so far off course from our expectations or interests (Lost, Revolution, The Event) that it's hard to know which way this one will go. The reported showrunner shake-ups is disconcerting in that regard, but the optimist in me is hopeful that this drama will succeed.
Having only seen one episode, it's hard to predict where the story is going or what kind of format the series will take in terms of its episode-to-episode approach, but that concern needs to be addressed regardless. In the meantime, Believe gets off to a solid start, which gives me hope. The cast is great, the premise is full of potential and the pilot works as a thrilling introduction to what could be a very compelling story. And with The Voice lead-in, if only for its premiere episode, that will hopefully give this promising series a running start.
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