“Believe” begins with an elaborate, nearly three-minute shot (or collection of shots seamless stitched together) that starts in the car in which Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a little girl, is riding with her foster parents, and ends in the rain outside its wreck. Camerawork like that isn’t unheard of on television — “True Detective” had a much-discussed even longer take at the end of its fourth episode. But it’s certainly rare, especially on a network series, and it serves as a bold reminder that “Believe,” which premieres on NBC this Monday, March 10th at 10pm before heading to a regular Sunday night spot, is the creation of newly Academy Awarded director Alfonso Cuarón.
Cuarón also directed the pilot of “Believe,” his first stint working in television since he established his film career, and while it isn’t filled with anything else as flashy as that opening shot, it’s a very solidly made episode that sets out promising if not unfamiliar elements for a contemporary drama with a touch of fantasy.
Bo isn’t just a normal child — she has gifts, can see the future in flashes, can make things happen with her mind, though she doesn’t yet have any control of her budding talents (other than her preternatural telegenic qualities). Because of this, there are two groups warring over her — one, lead by Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan), that has nefarious intentions, and another, led by Winter (Delroy Lindo), that’s trying to protect her.
And then there’s Tate (Jake McLaughlin, of “In the Valley of Elah”), the wrongly accused convict Winter saves from death row in order to recruit as Bo’s protector. The “Believe” pilot sets up a series in which Bo and Tate will be constantly on the run, pursued by Skouras’ forces and helping people along the way with Bo’s powers — a surprisingly old school format. But Tate’s gruff practicality and Bo’s unimpressed brattiness toward her new protector cuts through the potential cutesiness of their pairing — the two feel like a lightweight revisiting of the characters played by Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey in Cuarón’s “Children of Men.” Skouras has impressive resources and ruthless operatives on his side — including, in the pilot, a very capable character played by Sienna Guillory. But Winter has his own forces, a steady number of well-placed allies, and the help of the brisk Channing (Jamie Chung), who doesn’t take kindly to Tate.
How “Believe” will fair past its promising first episode is a not insignificant question. It has already faced some turnover, with Cuarón’s co-creator Mark Friedman having departed the series along with Dave Erickson, who was brought on to replace him — Jonas Pate (“Shrink”) and Hans Tobeason (“Birds of Prey”) are now sharing showrunning duties. And it’s hard to imagine the very in-demand Cuarón is going to be able to spend much time being involved in the day-to-day of the series — his involvement will likely be of the more from-high sort of J. J. Abrams, who’s also an executive producer here.
But there’s no reason to count of “Believe” falling apart already — the pilot doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it summons a legitimate touch of wonder in Bo’s powers and her interactions with a doctor at the hospital to which she’s brought. And while Cuarón has recently told some giant stories on the big screen, this one feels appealingly intimate despite its backdrop of conspiracies — a grumpy, untrusting man and the girl who’s going to drag him back to being a better person, one paranormal feat at a time.