3 out of 5
Created by: Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas
Covers season 1
Heads up: Emergence is a dumb TV show. It trades in the kind of let’s-keep-a-secret-for-no-reason-other-than-to-pad-out-the-runtime, faux-techno-mumbo-jumbo, some-characters-have-cancer-and-used-to-be-married-to-one-another trappings and plottings that a lot of dumb TV does, wrapped around one of those Lost-y gimmicks of having weird, unexplained things happen and portending greater mysteries.
Double heads up: A lot of TV is dumb. That’s fine. For every series that we ask to engage us, every episode, start to finish, I think we also ask for things that, like, don’t; shows that you can enjoy due to their tonal / structural familiarities, or their entertainment value. It’s a sliding scale of dumb for that brand of TV. And Emergence, eh, emerges as one of the smarter dumb TV shows.
From Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, who gave us the similarly dumb-but-smart-enough Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (and also the mostly brilliant Reaper!), Emergence actually does quite a bit to counter all of the hyphenated genericisms I mention above: it gives fairly legitimate reasons for its withheld info – like life or death ones – but then also confesses to things about when it’s time. Its tech stuff is eye-rolly, but they also balance this out with some more believable ground level stuff, and by making its excesses of a more “out there” nature that acts as a barrier against having to justify it as Mr. Robot real. And most of the subplots do actually pay off in a way that impacts the way characters respond to the main story. So we’re respecting our audience.
The cast certainly helps. Allison Tolman as police chief Jo has some clunky dialogue to work around, but absolutely brings as much humanity as possible to that clunk, and makes her shtick as top cop and caring mother work. Alexa Swinton, playing Piper, a seemingly abandoned girl who Jo takes in and around whom – thanks to slowly revealing powers, like control of metal items – the show’s mysteries revolve – has the uneviable task of playing the cypher girl, acting and saying odd things, but she’s great – as we learn more about who she is, the way she plays the role makes more and more sense, and there’s not the layer of camera awareness that seems to affect so many kid actors. Supporting these two we have Jo’s father, played by the always welcome Clancy Brown, who floats in and out as a voice reason, and Jo’s ex-husband, played by Donald Faison, who’s written well and portrayed well by the actor to juggle the will-they-won’t-they relationship stuff with a bit more honesty than we’re used to in this kind of stuff.
Others join in – sneaky reporters, FBI agents, secret scientists – to try to take Piper away from Jo, and to reel us in on where her powers come from…
And they tell us! Emergence ends up telling us a lot, only dangling carrots for as long as it’s practical to do so. Of course, there are many carrots, and they all lead to other carrots, and there’s a bit of a sense of continual inflate-and-deflate of tensions when Enemy A is after Piper, thwarted, some family chatter, then Enemy B is after Piper and so on, but, y’know, that’s what dumb TV does.
But Emergence does it well.