First episode impressions: ‘The Passage’ (TV review)

T

he latest event series that will likely end up going nowhere – either by treading familiar ground or by being canceled – “The Passage” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays on Fox) is at least driven by a nice relationship at its core. Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays special operative Brad Wolgast and Saniyya Sydney plays recently orphaned 10-year-old Amy. Initially, Wolgast is part of the duo that kidnaps the kid for a secret government project, then he thinks better of it and goes on the run with her.

The “Saved by the Bell” veteran and the young actress have good chemistry, and a decent movie could’ve been made from this premise. But the pilot episode is stiff under the pen of Liz Heldens (also the show’s creator, working from novels by Justin Cronin). Brad had split with his wife Lila (Emmanuelle Chriqui) after the death of their daughter – which she assures him was not his fault – although they still love each other. I guess we need to know he’s capable of questioning the kidnapping because he himself had a daughter; a childless man would apparently lack that moral perspective.

The “Saved by the Bell” veteran and the young actress have good chemistry, and a decent movie could’ve been made from this premise. But the pilot episode is stiff.

As Brad drives Amy to the secret lab in Colorado, he stops at a carnival and teaches her how to shoot to win a stuffed unicorn. And he stops by a country stream so Amy can mourn her mother. Brad’s behavior contrasts with that of his partner, Agent Doyle (Zach Appelman), who slaps Amy during the abduction and complains about having to pick up animal crackers and ginger ale when she’s carsick. This is “good cop, bad cop” not for the sake of a ploy, but because of a blunt teleplay.

Snark aside, the Brad-and-Amy scenes are genuinely good, but unfortunately, they are also the best parts of the “Passage” pilot by far. The overarching story will be familiar to fans of the “world is ending” genre: Avian flu has broken out in China, it’s likely going to arrive in the US in three months, and there’s one chance for a universal cure.

Government scientists – using death-row convicts as lab rats – have found that vampires (except they don’t call them “vampires,” because this is reality after all, haha) are immune to all diseases. Humans who are turned into vampires at an older age are in a feral state; those turned at a younger age retain more of their humanity. Or so we’re told. From what we can see, younger vampires – namely Brianne Howey’s 20-something Shauna — appear more human, but they’re just as blank-faced and thirsty for blood as the older ones.

The scientists’ thinking is that a kid turned into a vampire will remain human while gaining universal immunity. Then scientists can develop cures for everyone from that point.

A big frustration with the episode is that no one tells Brad the big plan. He’s one of those guys known for obeying orders without question, which makes him ideal for the kidnapping. Then it turns out he does question the morality of kidnapping a 10-year-old, because he’s not a complete piece of garbage (because he had a kid of his own, remember). But he’ll still do it if his bosses explain why he’s doing it. So his colleague and friend, Lawrence (Jason Fuchs), shoots Brad in a standoff rather than explaining it. Sigh. I hate dramatic plots built on communication breakdowns.

The drama is a rote exercise anyway, because we know from Fox’s ubiquitous previews that Brad and Amy end up at the Colorado lab, and that Amy – perhaps after some initial experiments – gains mutant powers. OK, only “X-Men” calls them mutant powers, but we know the score: Amy represents the next evolution of humanity.

If an apocalypse struck and I found myself in a position where “The Passage” was the only entertainment available, I wouldn’t mind following this story forward. It’s competent, and it’s possible there are surprises ahead. But we live in a world where there are about 50 current or recent shows in the “big event”/“fate of the world is at stake” genre at our fingertips. The moments between Brad and Amy are sweet, but that’s not enough to keep this one on my viewing schedule.