Of the many hands that punched the air when Alfonso Cuarón won this year’s Academy Award for Best Director with Gravity, a substantial number will have belonged to his colleagues on the new US drama Believe. What better way for a series to debut than illuminated by the well-deserved Oscar glow of its creator and executive director?
Believe introduces us to ten-year-old Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a young girl with special abilities placed under the protection of death row inmate Tate (Jake McLaughlin). Bo’s abilities make her the target of a dangerous organisation headed up by Roman Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan) from which she must be kept hidden. It’s the task of Tate and Believe’s Nick Fury-style leader, Winter (Delroy Lindo), to protect Bo and help her to manage her powers.
Cuarón developed Believe with JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Production Company, giving the show not one but two major movie director parents. After a few behind the scenes seat-changes, producer/director Jonas Pate is now showrunning. It’s a heritage few will balk at, and one that, thanks to Abrams, also includes links to the likes of Lost, Fringe, Alias, Person Of Interest and many more.
With its patchwork of quality influences and a pedigree most shows would give their back nine for, Believe isn’t only a supernatural action series, but a character drama themed around family, redemption and healing. It combines procedural and mythological elements with action, set-pieces and emotion.
Read on to find out what Believe’s first episode tells us to expect from the new drama…
A hand-held, documentary style
Whether it’s a school of witchcraft and wizardry, dystopian England, or a disaster-struck space shuttle, director Alfonso Cuarón is skilled at making the extraordinary look believable. Style-wise, Cuarón’s opening episode for Believe borrows from documentary filmmaking, with video-style lighting and sparingly used hand-held camerawork bringing a sense of realism to its supernatural story.
Cuaron’s visual message tells the audience that Bo and her powers are part of a recognisably real world. “I wanted to do something more grounded, with real people, real locations” Cuarón explained, “… something in which people were not floating”. After spending years developing Gravity’s time-consuming effects, it’s easy to understand why.
Even when Believe ventures into the supernatural, the effects keep their feet firmly on the ground. Bo’s early “spooky” exploits for instance, are viewed not in glossy flashback in the first episode, but through a series of home videos watched on a grimy laptop. Her talents may be out of this world, Believe says, but Bo and the rest of the show’s characters are firmly a part of this one.
Action, set-pieces and fight scenes
If you’re familiar with Cuarón’s beautifully executed car scene in 2006’s Children Of Men, you’ll have seen how fluidly his camera can move between the low key and the high risk, between relaxed family intimacy and hectic disaster. That scene is good preparation for the opening minutes of Believe, which waste no time whatsoever in introducing the severity of the threat to young Bo’s freedom.
The action doesn’t let up in episode one’s next fifty minutes, which ticks along from chase to escape to chase to escape. Necks are snapped, cars are driven through warehouse doors, and we’re shown not one, but three Buffy-style martial arts punch-ups, giving us a flavour of the action to come.
An odd couple dynamic
At the heart of Believe, beneath the shady organisations, paranormal powers, and kidnap plots is an emotional character drama. Young Bo and her protector Tate are like any other odd couple thrust together by circumstance or fate, an ill-matched pair who bicker their way to understanding.
Bo’s unusual empathetic powers have made her an unusually confident, independent and altruistic ten year old, whereas Tate’s years in prison have made him closed off and cynical. He doesn’t like kids and calls her names, she tells him that he stinks and has anger issues. It’s fair to say it’s not the smoothest of starts for the duo, and their characters’ awkward, odd couple chemistry is one of Believe’s initial attractions.
Why has fate pushed Bo and Tate together? Combining a ten year old child and a death row convict may not seem like the smartest of moves, but you’ll soon see there’s method to Believe’s madness.
When circumstances prevail to keep Tate and his ward on the road, staying one step ahead of the organisation hunting Bo down, it opens the door for Believe’s procedural element. In addition to an overarching story about the people variously hunting and protecting Bo comes a weekly chance to see how her powers develop in a variety of closed stories.
“Think of all the people she’ll meet along the way” is what Delroy Lindo’s character, Winter, says when Bo and Tate’s road-trip becomes necessary, introducing a case-of-the-week side to Believe. Like Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett, Bo is an itinerant serial helper, travelling from town to town and using her powers to do what she can to help along the way.
Bo’s precognition and empathy give her the ability to recognise pain in those around her, pain she tries to alleviate. Believe’s opener gives its audience a glimpse of the kind of help and healing Bo can offer to those around her. Think of her as part X-Men’s Jean Grey, part The Littlest Hobo.
It wouldn’t very well be a JJ Abrams-produced show if there weren’t some supernatural or sci-fi monkeyshines going on, and the glimpses we see of Bo’s powers in the first episode lay the ground for an intriguing first season.
The extent and nature of Bo’s “spookies” (the child-friendly term Winter and she and Winter use to refer to her unexplained episodes of telekinesis, mind-control and more) is not yet known, leaving a tantalising hook for viewers as the series progresses.
Episode one reveals a few of Bo’s powers, but like those of an X-mutant, they’re developing as she grows. Bo can already read minds, affect electricity, see visions of the future, and influence the behaviour of animals, but how far do her powers really go? Why does she have them? And will she learn to bring them under her control before Orchestra finds her?
A sense of humour
Supernatural character drama and jokes don’t always go hand in hand, but Believe’s opener sets out its stall early on as a show with a sense of humour.
Much of the fun at this early stage comes from the bickering interplay between Tate and Bo, an inverted adult/child relationship in which the ten year old calls the shots. The humour is in no small part thanks to Johnny Sequoyah’s natural performance as Bo, a little girl who beautifully manages the fine balance between being precocious but endearing.
Yet more comic moments come from the script, as Tate’s character displays a drily mocking sense of humour and a comic habit of attempting to preserve his pride. Episode one isn’t averse to some lowbrow laughs either, as seen in one unfortunate encounter involving pigeon droppings…
A shady organisation
He has only the scantest of screen time, but Twin Peaks fans will still appreciate the glimpses of Kyle MacLachlan in Believe’s first episode. MacLachlan plays the villainous Roman Skouras, a wealthy philanthropist who, when he’s not receiving Humanitarian awards, heads up the secretly shady Orchestra organisation hunting Bo.
The thread connecting Skouras to former business partner Winter (Delroy Lindo) promises to unravel with some intrigue. What befell the pair to put them on two opposite sides of the operation and turn them into the Magneto and Professor X of Believe? How did each learn about Bo’s abilities? Is she the only one who has them? And finally, are Winter and co. really the self-declared “good guys”?
A cuddly toy
What list is complete without one? Specifically, Believe’s cuddly toy is Stanley the Turtle, a plush reptile Bo won’t leave behind for anything, something that lands her pals in serious trouble…
Believe starts on Thursday 27th March 9pm on UKTV’s Watch (Sky TV 109 & Virgin TV 124)
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.