NBC’s “Believe” Review

This is the trailer for NBC’s new-ish show, Believe. Recently, I was hanging out with friends of mine, in particular an Individual named Seth. Seth was watching the ninth episode of the show, and I caught the last half of it, and this turned into a lazy day of sitting around and binge watching the entire show. At the time, nine episodes were out, of thirteen, of the first season. As of this writing, the show has not been renewed.

The premise was a pretty standard scifi shtick; there is a little ten year old girl named Bo, who has psychic powers. A government agency researching her powers wants to reacquire her after she escapes. and a group of rogue agents are helping her. They break her father out of prison to be her guardian and protect her, and neither Bo nor her father or aware or informed of this relationship. While on the run from the government agency and their FBI ally, Bo and her father, Tate, help people in a Touched by an Angel fashion.

I suppose my impression of this show after watching what episodes have come out, is that it was interesting. Not terribly bad, but also not very good; I think it deserved to be cancelled. But it was very interesting, at least form the perspective of an inspiring writer, and it’s something you can watch while doing data entry or menial mental work on a computer and not feel to bad about. It just ekes by the bar of adequacy for TV you don’t want to think to hard about, and some of the psychic stuff is cool. It’s a good popcorn show. But it did demonstrate some interesting things that I want to talk about. Also, spoilers to follow.

Before I get talking about the show proper, I want to clarify something. The things that I find interesting to talk about with regards to Believe are the same things that make it, well, not so good. There are problems, true, but I enjoyed watching it, and I don’t like writing solely about why bad things are bad because that isn’t really anything challenging to write about. So in the interest of balance, I’ll point out the things that were good. The actress who plays Bo is appropriately cute and heartwarming, and the show has enough feel-good atmosphere without trying to be dark and edgy, but still manages to not get overly sappy too often. The relationship with between Bo and her dad, Tate, is basic yet flows naturally enough. The show uses imagery effectively, I like the butterflies and some of the composition of certain scenes. The deathcount is also fairly low, which is nice. The shows characters, if sometimes basic, are consistent. I enjoyed it unironically, it was a fun little ride, and I’m glad that it’s going to be short when it’s all out, because I plan of seeing the last four episodes.

If you pick up an entry level book on writing stories, there is this principle called show, don’t tell. It’s self explanatory- if a character is honest, don’t tell the audience he is honest straight out, just have her do honest things until the audience gets it. The Sopranos does this well, very well in fact- the show doesn’t come out and describe it’s characters motivations and emotions, their characters just have them and then those motivations and emotions cause them to do things that have an effect on the world. For example, Carmella and Tony Soprano spoil there kids; this is shown with lenient punishes for most transgressions and overindulging them, but these are things the characters do, no one talks about it directly. Characterization on that show is subtle; characterization on Believe is anything but. And if you watch a couple episodes of these two shows back to back, the difference is very stark.

The way Believe chooses to tell it’s story is very blunt, to say the least. And as a writer, it becomes clear what is wrong with telling rather than showing, as *Believe does it again and again. In the first episode, the good guys come out and say, “We’re the good guys here.” The man that was in prison is unambiguously innocent, it is good that he escapes. Bo is innocent and a good person, and we know because multiple characters take the time to tell us this, and that she is special. The Audience learns there will be an Amber Alert for Bo from the FBI because there are multiple scenes talking about it, rather than it just being done. We learn that Tate’s old town distrusts him because people say they don’t trust him, every plot point is pointed out and explained. And it’s really, really odd to see, and it’s very bad, and it lowered my enjoyment of the show. But you can see this show, don’t tell principle in action and I’ve rarely seen it so clear as right here. So from the perspective of an amateur/aspiring writer, it’s very worth watching at least a bit to see this principle.

The other big flaw is mostly amusing to me, and that’s the way the characters are characterized and the plot unfolds in general. The show plays very much on audience expectations and experiences with similar stories, to the point where they seem to forget to flesh out anyone’s motivations or details at already. Take the main plot. Everyone goes on about how special and important Bo is, and she does commit some pretty impressive magic- lifting cars and controlling birds, for instance - but she can’t control it and it’s unclear why anyone would think she’s going to be so important in some specific way. There are other wizards, and Bo is indeed powerful, but there’s no reason that all the other characters would have a specific view on her. And yet they do. The FBI, the government, the program director, hell even the white hat double agent who has taken it upon himself to help her out just say “she’s special and will change the world.” No explanation is given, and it’s not as it seems to be a secret they are planning for a big reveal at some point. She just is the main character, so she’s important. The big evil government-ish organization that pursues her does so because the series needs a villain. The last episode I saw had them finding a girl as powerful as Bo, but older, but they still seem to think Bo is more important, because, of course, that’s the main plot.

There is a lot of talk about “the world finding out about Bo at the property time” and I have no idea what the writers think this means.

So that’s m conclusions. It’s a fun show, a popcorn show, a show that thankfully is not going to last that long. And it make some specific, interesting mistakes. And honestly, it was forgettable, I won’t be reminiscing about it, but it provided a distraction for a while; it’s one of those things that is cool to watch but deserves to be cancelled. It’s not really art, just more, well, just anther show that was fun while it lasted but not as fun as the next thing.

 
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