Created by Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Friedman
Sometimes even the mighty must fall. Such is the case for Alfonso Cuarón who, fresh off an Academy Award win for his celebrated Gravity, made a surprising venture into television with NBC’s Believe. Produced by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, Believe's behind-the-scenes pedigree suggested it could be the next big thing. Instead the finished product, while showing some intriguing potential, is a lackluster misstep for both Cuarón and Abrams, a misstep that led to cancellation before the full first season had aired.
Believe follows Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a young girl born with supernatural abilities. Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo) is the head of an underground operation dedicated to protecting Bo and others like her from Orchestra, an operation run by the sinister Roman Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan). Winter leads his team in a prison break, freeing William Tate (Jake McLaughlin), a man with a surprising connection to Bo, to act as an unlikely guardian to the girl as Orchestra’s reach begins to extend further and further.
The most frustrating thing about Believe is that it bills its young lead as “extraordinary,” but the series itself is unfortunately rather ordinary. For all the technical wizardry, the impressive cast (which also includes a cruelly underutilized Jamie Chung), and the wealth of behind-the-scenes talent, Believe almost always feels like it is simply going through the motions. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the series is how underwhelming each episode feels. The writers want us to believe (no pun intended) the intense rivalry between Winter and Skouras, but we are given barely enough information to understand that dynamic, let alone care. Similarly we are expected to accept Milton’s proteges’ blind allegiance to him without any real background.
The one truly bright light in this otherwise dull series is its lead. Cuarón has proven with both A Little Princess and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban his knack for pulling strong performances from young actors and that holds true here. Sequoyah is a natural, stealing every moment she appears. Her onscreen relationship with McLaughlin displays an easy chemistry that makes their banter a delight to watch. If only there was a better series to support such a fun dynamic.
Believe isn’t terrible, but that is sadly the highest compliment one can award the series. It is a pity that so much creativity couldn’t bring together a more creative product. Audiences deserve better. Cuarón and Abrams are certainly capable of it. Maybe Believe's abrupt cancellation will challenge them to work a bit harder next time.
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