As seems to be the trend these days, the first episode of an upcoming show has been released a bit early, though this time officially. The show is Stichers, and it’s a summer show for the ABC Family network. The full episode can be found as an exclusive on the EW website.
Here is a short, spoiler-free review of this new sci-fi show.
The basic premise of the show is a strange mash-up of Inception, Source Code, and iZombie. A top secret, unnamed government agency has developed technology that lets them inject the mind of a living person into the memories of a recently-deceased one, to extract information that person took to the grave and help solve crimes. The main character, Kristen, is a college student with a particularly odd (and, as far as I can tell, entirely fictional) condition called “temporal dysplasia”, which means she has no concept of the passage of time. This makes her perfectly suited for use in the memory device, and the episode shows us her first pass at using it. Once inside, Kristen can walk freely around the memories, even manipulate them to some degree, though she can’t physically touch anything. For memories tied to particularly strong emotions, she can also get drawn fully into the experience, feeling the emotions as if she were there and dragging up other, related memories from the subjects’ subconscious.
The episode follows the main character as she gets recruited into this new world, as well as showing us some of the problems her condition is causing in her private life, and how they eventually collide. The show made really good use of some simple effects and editing to show what it was like going “inside” someone else’s mind, saving most of their FX budget for one really flashy explosion. It was subtle, but clear, what was going on.
Though this is a science fiction show, it’s mostly a procedural with science-fiction elements (similar to, say, Almost Human). All the expected elements are there: a government agency no one knows about, a team of anti-social tech geniuses, the main character who lives to flaunt the rules, the overbearing boss who yells at everyone, and even a best friend who’s pulled into the drama early for a really lame reason. They work pretty well together, though the addition of the roommate to the “team” seemed forced and unnecessary. (However, as she is played by veteran SyFy actor Allison Scagliotti, of Warehouse 13 fame, I will at no point complain.)
The show has a similar tone to my previous favorite ABC Family show – Kyle XY – in that the show isn’t really about the science. The science fiction aspect is just there, everyone just accepts that it’s real, and moves on to the actual plot. On the plus side, if you ignore the dead-brain interface, the rest of the technology in the show stands up better than a lot of highly popular network shows. Though the main character and her roommate are both “IT geniuses”, most of what they do is at least plausibly based in reality — dressed up for TV as you expect, but nowhere near Scorpion or NCIS levels of stupidity.
The main problem I had with the show was that most the characters spent at least a small part of the episode being cliches, with some worse than others. Kirsten, has a mental disorder that basically makes her a psychopath: because she can’t “feel time passing”, she has no sense of emotional attachment or loss. (Someone close to her dies early on and she shows no distress because, as she explains, the minute she knew he had died, it was like he had always been dead.) She really plays up this aspect of her character in how she treats other people; the show is desperately trying to paint her as a young female House. That worked for Hugh Laurie, but didn’t work out so well for Rainn Wilson. In my opinion, they need to tone that down a bit or the character will turn people off.
The boss character, played by another SyFy veteran (Eureka‘s Salli Richardson-Whitfield), also felt a bit wooden to me. In this case, I can’t really pinpoint where I lost interest, but she’s playing the “head of a black ops agency” bit in a very paint-by-numbers way. Hopefully she’ll begin to show some personality, once we’ve established just how in charge she is.
The other characters were not quite as bad, though the lead nerd in the show had a few fragments of extremely terrible dialogue, especially during the scene where Kirsten goes under for the first time. There’s also the standard attempts at establishing nerd cred (he asks for a list of Doctor Who actors in a way that no Doctor Who fan would ever do), and some obvious fan service (the “Cat Woman” suit designed by the even-more-cliche nerd sidekick.) The only character on the show that showed a consistently realistic personality was the roommate, Allison Scagliotti’s character, and I hope they’re smart enough to give her screen time to show it.
Overall, I found the show to be about as enjoyable as I expected. It’s a summer show and it’s on ABC family, so I wasn’t expecting Game of Thrones. Science fiction is rare on ABC Family (unless you count Ravenwood…) but this time, it seems like they did a pretty good job. It seems like it will probably stand up well against the summer fare coming out of SyFy, and give me something to watch while I wait for the return of Arrow. That’s really all I can ask.
I’d give it an even 5/10, and a try to catch it.