Review by C.J. Bunce
The tropes of Steven Spielberg run rampant in the new TV series The Whispers. Its pilot episode premiered Monday night on ABC and it teases enough of those things we love about Spielberg movies–it’s practically an homage to the producer of the series–to prompt us to return for more next week. Network science fiction as a whole tends to be full of more shock and awe than the sci-fi of cable TV (compare Lost and Heroes to shows that delved deeper into the human condition like Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, or The Dead Zone), so the story will need to do more than just tease what’s really going on for us to not get bored and simply move along.
To begin with, The Whispers has that “creepy little girl” thing going that we’ve discussed plenty here at borg.com. It’s hard to miss the throwbacks to the original Poltergeist (Spielberg wrote the screenplay). Only this time we have more than one little girl talking to something no one else can see. We don’t really know yet whether this is a purely sci-fi show or entirely horror–or a bit of both.
The show follows Claire Bennigan, played by Lily Rabe, a federal agent whose husband died three months prior to the events in the show’s first episode. He’s also the pilot missing from a jet presumed lost in the Arctic, a jet just discovered far away in the African desert. Will the relationship between Claire and her lost husband (Milo Ventimiglia) form the foundation of a relationship as in Spielberg’s supernatural romance Always?
An imaginary friend named Drill is speaking to little kids in a way only children can hear–and Drill’s voice always come from the lights (even we don’t hear this voice so we don’t know whether it’s real or not). But these lights are up to something, like the energy from the Lost Ark from Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not just the idea that harkens back to Raiders–as the power of the light swishes about it can’t be long before it starts zapping those who stand by who fail top keep their eyes closed.
We can see E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial imagery, like the feds in hazard gear closing in on Elliott’s house. Here, government workers close in on a giant structure that has somehow reached up and grabbed a jet from far away. E.T.’s mom, played by Dee Wallace, even makes a brief appearance in the pilot for The Whispers.
But most of all you’ll find Close Encounters of the Third Kind in camera frames, and production elements. Take a room full of electronic toys all running about in a darkly lit room for one. A sweet and gullible kid follows a strange, unseen friend so blindly. Like the seafaring vessel dropped in the middle of the desert in the movie, here we have a jet found in a similar way. Like Richard Dreyfuss’s own close encounter–that strange presence in the form of light is all over The Whispers. Even the duststorm scene where the French scientist arrives on the scene in the movie plays out here in the pilot. The comparisons can go on and on.
Having the Spielberg name on a series is far from a guarantee of success, and often seems like some studio publicist’s last-ditch effort to gain some buzz for a series (how much can a producer like Spielberg really personally add other than his name to the dozens of projects he works on each year, anyway?) Think Terra Nova, Falling Skies, or Under the Dome. In a summer full of new sci-fi series, The Whispers will need to prove that Spielberg tropes or something much more will set up the series as one of the survivors.
The Whispers airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. Central on ABC. Come back tomorrow for previews of more new summer sci-fi series.