[Editor’s note: Light spoilers for the premiere episode of “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” follow.]
The new shows that make up the bulk of the fall broadcast TV season fall into pretty obvious categories: military drama (“The Brave”), medical drama (“The Good Doctor”), family comedy/annual expansion of the Chuck Lorre empire (“Young Sheldon”).
And then there’s “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World,” the ABC drama airing Tuesday nights, which doesn’t fit neatly into any box in particular. The official synopsis, per ABC:
Kevin Finn (Jason Ritter) is not a good person. He’s not terrible, but he’s selfish, and clueless, and values material wealth and status over all else. And he’s beginning to realize that those things aren’t making him happy – in fact, he’s fairly miserable. Just when things seem to be at their worst, he finds himself tasked with an unbelievable mission… saving the world…
A series of fantastic events, including a meteorite landing near the house, lead Kevin to meet an unlikely celestial guide, Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory). Yvette delivers incredible news to Kevin: in every generation, there are 36 righteous souls on Earth whose mere existence protects the world. Kevin, she tells him, is the last of the 36 righteous. Humanity has been thrown into crisis. Without the 36, the world will begin to lose the one thing that allows us to persevere through the ups and downs of life: hope.
The focus in the first episode is firmly upon viewers getting to know Kevin through his awkward relationships with his estranged sister and niece, while Yvette — who resists using the word “angel,” though can’t be seen by other people and is clearly imbued with extraordinary abilities — explains the mission he’s been assigned, as well as her role in helping him complete it.
If this premise seems to come a little bit out of left field, it’s worth knowing that this isn’t the first time creators Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters have blended supernatural elements with a down-to-earth approach, as witnessed by their breakout series “Reaper,” which ran for two entertaining seasons on The CW.
“Reaper” had perhaps the mirror image of “Kevin’s” premise, as it followed a young man named Sam (Bret Harrison) who was returning souls to Hell for the Devil (Ray Wise, in a brilliant bit of casting). Another odd parallel: While the concept of Hell and the Devil is firmly grounded in Christian mythology, “Kevin” appears to draw direct inspiration from a Judaic concept.
The Tzadikim Nistarim, which translates as the “hidden righteous ones,” are believed to be 36 people (36 being a very significant number) who justify the continued existence of humanity to God. If all 36 were to vanish, the world as we know it would cease to exist. The words are never used on screen, but Kevin is theoretically a Lamed Vovnick, one of the 36 — and not just that, but the last one.
Here’s what’s important about how “Kevin” invokes this concept: The show might not bring with it this sense, immediately, but depending on how closely the writers hew to the literal mythology invoked here, this could be a good-hearted show about the encroaching apocalypse. It’s unlikely that it will invoke that hopeless an attitude, especially since there’s no clear sense of a deadline for Kevin tracking down the 35 others he seeks.
Technically, Butters and Fazekas may not owe the Talmud a co-writing credit, because this sort of quasi-religious premise has its precedents. The short-lived Fox series “Touch,” starring Kiefer Sutherland as the father of a boy who may have been one of the 36 in his story universe, also touched on this belief. And going back even further, tonally it feels extremely familiar to the CBS 2003-2005 drama “Joan of Arcadia,” which followed a teenage girl (played by Amber Tamblyn) who started speaking directly to God. One of Tamblyn’s co-stars just so happened to be Jason Ritter.
Ritter is a likable lead, the supporting cast is strong, and while there’s a lot happening in the pilot, it has a positive energy that could connect with audiences given a chance, even given the mystical elements of its premise.
Fazekas told reporters during the Television Critics Association press tour this summer, “I love sort of putting genre elements in because I think, at the end of the day, as Tara was saying, you can use that to tell any type of story, and it’s not even really about the genre. It’s about sort of exploring humanity.”
“Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.