A pilot should succeed at two things: introducing a promising, compelling premise for an ongoing series and telling a story in its own right. Tonight’s CW premiere of the supernatural angel drama The Messengers does OK at that first goal and mostly fails at the second. It makes for a lackluster pilot with some flashes of visual effects brilliance, but bombastic themes. Unless the five central characters of this show start to get more interesting, than this show is not long for this world. Or the heavens, for that matter.
So, what’s not to love about the chosen five — aka the people who turn into angels after Lucifer rides a meteorite down to Earth? Well, it’s not that they’re terrible, I’m just not keen on spending an entire season with any of them — even if they do keep developing awesome superpowers. Erin, the divorced mom whose ex is trying to gain custody of their kid, has pretty much one character trait: single mother. Joshua, the evangelical preacher with a pregnant wife and an awful father, appears to live on a stage. Raul, an undercover drug agent who’s in trouble, is mysteriously uneven in a way that feels lazy rather than intriguing. (But, per The CW contract, he looks excellent shirtless.) Peter, a teenaged swimmer/foster kid, seems more upset about leaving his crush than accidentally killing a dude. And Vera, a Jodie-Foster-in-Contact-style scientist spends most of the episode being so enthusiastic scientist-y she actually offers to have herself thrown into Guantanamo Bay.
The Messengers feels like shows we’ve seen before — Heroes, Roswell, Touch, to name a few — and suffers from an unfocused tone that keeps it from setting itself apart from that sense of ill-defined familiarity. It takes itself very seriously, but doesn’t ever match the weightiness of that tone with a more complex exploration of morality, religion, or sacrifice. It starts out as a quasi-religious supernatural drama only to throw some unnecessary melodrama at all of its characters in the final act. It might have been interesting to see at least one central character who didn’t have some soap opera like drama going on. Like, what would you do if you had a religious calling to defend the Earth from possible apocalypse, but you kind of don’t want to leave your life? Little details like this one could have been a refreshing, nuanced twist on a show that relies too heavily on tropes without grounding any of it in much character.
The Messengers could also benefit from a scarier villain. So far, Lucifer has yet to come off as anything other than a smug, breaking-and-entering beefcake who smiles a lot at inappropriate times. Sure, he killed a mechanic named Johnny for his clothes, but he’s still too ill-defined to be scary. The Messengers could be waiting to pull the trigger on some seriously scary devil action, but I finished this episode waiting for the action to really begin, wishing that The Messengers hadn’t played it so mysterious in this series opener. For a show taking on one of the highest stake, broadest scope topics — i.e. the ultimate battle between good and evil — it’s a little light on the fire and brimstone.
I’m not sure what this show wants to be, but that doesn’t mean it won’t figure it out. It’s too soon to tell if that confusion will change moving forward. After all, sometimes pilots suck, even if a show ends up being awesome. While I don’t see The Messengers becoming awesome any time soon, I’m willing to keep watching to see what happens next. I’m at least willing to keep watching until these five characters meet in person. As the pilot ends, they are all heading to or are currently in Houston with the implication that destiny will bring them together. I have other questions, too: Are these five people dead? If so, what does that mean? What other kinds of superpowers, if any, do they have? And, most importantly, what is the The Man (aka Lucifer) up to? I wish The Messengers had answered more of these questions in the first episode, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stick around for another week.