All The Rest Of ABC’s Series We’ve Seen Before
One of the many delightful discoveries of the first season of Fargo was the incredible work of Allison Tolman as the simple, small town Minnesota law woman who is the only one to suspect the truth behind a horrible series of murders. Ever since Tolman’s breakthrough performance, she has generally stayed away from cable and streaming, and tried the road less traveled on broadcast. These include her delightful performance as the (human) lead in the too short-lived sitcom Downward Dog and as a single mother who brings out the worst in the criminal women in the first two seasons of Good Girls.
Now, Tolman finds herself coming full circle — admittedly rather early in her career — playing Sheriff Jo Evans in ABC’s new paranormally inclined series Emergence. Evans is a small town law woman trying to figure out the sequence of events behind a mysterious plane crash that happens near the sea, with only one apparent survivor — a girl who can’t remember anything, not even her own name. After the crash is mysteriously cleaned up by people claiming to be with the NTSB, the girl leaves the hospital and gets in Jo’s car. She takes her home, where her daughter Mia and her father (Clancy Brown, playing a good guy for a change) seem to sympathize. She calls the girl Piper, and within a period of minutes, strange events been occurring. The girl seems able to control the pattern of rainfall, she can move objects with her mind — often without even thinking about it. And its very clear that there are some very bad people trying to clean up any evidence of what happened that night, and are trying to grab Piper back.
Tolman is by far the best thing about this series. Much as in Fargo, she’s plays a no-nonsense lawperson with real compassion in her guts for doing the right thing even if it isn’t within the procedures. She looks around all of the increasingly bizarre events around her, and fills it with an innate goodness that makes us understand, if not excuse her actions.
Nothing else in the series is nearly as good. The show’s creators Michelle Fazekas and Tara Butters are good writers generally. I was a huge of fan of an earlier ABC production of theirs Kevin (probably) Saves The World, which was killed just when it was starting to hit its stride. But in this series, they’re clearly punching above their weight. What they seem to be doing is trying to come up with a combination of The X-Files (where they briefly worked) and Stranger Things. But Alexa Swinton is no Millie Bobby Brown. That’s not entirely their fault — few young actresses have the ability that Brown has to express so much in just a few words. But they seem to be going out of their way to make ‘Piper’ a MacGuffin far more than an actually human being. And it is hard to believe that Jo, who seems like an utterly sensible girl — but who is a single mother — would just upend everything. And Stranger Things also had a lot more going on that just Eleven — they had a whole group of young actors and season veterans who seemed more than capable of holding their own. Despite a fairly solid cast, including Brown and Donald Faison, who plays Jo’s sort-of ex husband, Tolman is the only person so far who seems to be playing a human being.
I’m willing to give Emergence the benefit of the doubt so far — there are enough things in it to make me want to keep watching. But so far, I have the sinking feeling that unless the writers come up with something more intriguing to add to the mystery, this series will very quickly find itself going to way of all those Lost rip-offs that came out a decade ago. Fazekas and Butters are going to need a lot more than flying washing machines and buzzing electricity to keep me engaged for a full season.
My score: 3 stars.