J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón are two of the most exciting and respected filmmakers working today, and their names are often seen as an undeniable sign of quality. Abrams is known for being behind some of the most unique and mythology-heavy television shows of the last decade (Alias, Lost, and Fringe, to name a few), while Cuarón is recognized for his incredible filmography and that nice golden Best Director Oscar that now sits on his shelf for Gravity. So, when it was announced that the duo would be teaming up to produce a show on NBC called Believe, fans of the filmmakers were, as expected, incredibly excited.
Granted, Abrams’ name is often attached to projects that the man himself has little to do with. Often, his production company Bad Robot does most of the legwork, while his name is merely used to sell audiences on the prospect of high-concept television shows. His projects have been met with varying degrees of success, with shows like Person of Interest and Revolution still on the air, while others like Alcatraz and Undercovers were not only short-lived, but quickly forgotten. With Cuarón behind the camera for the pilot episode and on board as a co-executive producer, Believe has a chance to be one of the shows in the former category, as long as it gets better from here on out and not worse.
Despite a few good visual choices that allow Cuarón’s masterful vision and talent as a director shine through, the show itself is kind of boring and surprisingly underwhelming. It’s got a decent premise, as it focuses on a young girl named Bo with superhuman powers being pursued by an evil billionaire (played by the always-awesome and often evil Kyle MacLachlan) that wants to exploit her gifts. This, of course, prompts the Good Guys, led by Delroy Lindo as Milton Winter, to try and protect the girl until it’s time to share her gifts with the world.
To the show’s credit, the premise is restrained and never blown out of proportion. Things are held back and kept just vague enough to give the series a bit of mystery, and it comes off as a sort of stripped-down version of Heroes. Beyond that, however, we’re given very little to care about, and simply being told that someone is special isn’t as effective as being shown. Yes, we see young Bo levitate things and use a bit of what we think is telekinesis, but we need more to go on if we’re to believe that people so desperately want to both save her and mercilessly hunt her down.
The episode opens in trademark Cuarón fashion, with a car crash that’s filmed in a pretty great two and a half minute single-take shot. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, never quite reaching the greatness explored in that opening scene. In fact, once characters began to open their mouths, I found myself tuning things out.
In order to protect Bo, Winter enlists the help of a wrongly-accused man on death row named Tate (Jack McLaughlin). On the eve of his execution, Tate is visited by Winter disguised as a priest, who tells him that he will be broken out of prison if he agrees to help save Bo. Tate doesn’t believe him, but caves just minutes before he’s about to be killed, which leads to an elaborate and completely implausible prison break.
From there, Tate goes through the sewers Shawshank Redemption style and is greeted by Winter’s team, who hose him down and slap a GPS to his ankle. Bo is being kept in a hospital following the car crash, so Winter decides that the best plan of action is to, well, bust her out of there. So, what do they do? They give Tate some fake bruises and wheel him into the hospital on a stretcher. Why he couldn’t just walk into the hospital to get her is unclear, especially since anyone familiar with hospitals knows that there are no security checks or anything, anyone can walk in and wander around without nurses or doctors batting an eye.
But, I digress. The plan works and Tate finds Bo, before tears start streaming down his face at the very sight of her. It’s here that the dialogue gets a bit queasy, as she tells him, “You know why you were crying? You remembered you were good once.” Wow. Such an insightful little super-powered girl.