Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Whispers - Premiere Episode

The Whispers - ABC's new SF drama series based on Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour" - premiered on Monday. According to Variety, it got reasonable ratings, so I assume its future on primetime US television is assured for the time being.

The opening episode had some strong behind-the-scenes talent attached. Writer-producer Soo Hugh has been associated with Under the Dome. Not the greatest series of all time, but one which at least is sometimes able to sustain some mystery and suspense. Co-director Mark Romanek made the admirable Robin Williams film One Hour Photo, although his career since has never quite matched up to that early work.

Because of the Under the Dome connection, I half-expected The Whispers to be full of artificial suspense, shocks and surprises. Instead, it had multiple plot threads which started out independently but turned out to be connected. Nothing earth-shattering, but not bad TV plotting, especially in setting up what I assume might be a five-year series if those ratings hold up.

Not surprisingly, the show very quickly diverges from Bradbury's original story. However, what Bradbury-derived material there was seemed quite fine to me. There were the kids taking instruction from Drill, the parents talking on the phone and not quite paying enough attention to the kids - this taken directly from "Zero Hour". The mother at the beginning of the episode who died falling through the treehouse reminded me of another Bradbury story, "The Small Assassin", where a baby causes a mother to fall downstairs and die. Then there was the beardy guy in the hospital, who was covered with tattoos. Ah, Soo Hugh read "Zero Hour" in The Illustrated Man, I thought to myself. There's even one sequence which has visual echoes of "The Screaming Woman" from Ray Bradbury Theatre.
Of course, for every Bradbury element, this Amblin Entertainment production also had a Spielberg element: the kids, of course, plus the toys that take on a life of their own, and the mystery-object-found-in-the-desert (how could it possibly have got here?) - this could have been Close Encounters, or ET, or Poltergeist.

Overall, though, it was far better than I feared, and good enough to make me want to see more. I didn't care for the deaf kid (unconvincingly written and performed), and the mystery-object-found-in-the-desert (how could it possibly have got here?) was visually underwhelming. But otherwise, good stuff. I doubt there will be any Bradbury after this first episode, though.

One thing struck me as odd. There wasn't any credit to Bradbury on-screen anywhere that I could see. I imagine this is a contractual matter between ABC and the Bradbury estate, and it's none of my business. But if I were Don Congdon Associates, I would have insisted on a "based on a story by Ray Bradbury" credit at the head of each episode.
Over on io9, a reviewer suggests that The Whispers misses the point of Bradbury's story. It's a good review, which gave me a few chuckles. But it seems to me that you can't expect an open-ended TV series to have the same point as a short story that runs to just a few pages. I would hope that The Whispers is designed to reach a conclusion at some point, but it's not being advertised as a closed serial of defined length. Rather, it is typical network TV fare, working on the principle of "let's keep it going as long as we can, and possibly consider concluding it at some unspecified point in the future - if we don't get cancelled at short notice". The best we can expect, I think, is that "Zero Hour" be treated honorably as the jumping-off point for the series, after which it becomes its own thing.