Armageddon, the Rapture and the End of Days aren't necessarily new concepts to primetime television - Britney Spears's reality show notwithstanding. Nevertheless, it's a rarity to see a weekly primetime series embrace religion in such a "warts and all" fashion. That's the case of "Revelations," which premieres tonight at 9:00/8:00c (with encores at various dates and times on NBC and its sibling cable channels - check your local listings for more details).
Like any good religious story, it starts with a bunch of signs - a bolt of lightning strikes a girl walking through a golf course, the sole survivor of a shipwreck in the Adriatic Sea is an unharmed infant and a crowd witnesses what appears to be the shadow of Jesus on the crucifix against a mountain in Mexico. Coincidences or signs of the Apocalypse?
Here to answer those questions are Dr. Richard Massey (a great to see on TV Bill Pullman) and Sister Josepha Montifiore (the similarly great to see on TV Natascha McElhone). Set up to be the religious "Mulder and Scully," "Revelations" changes genders of those roles with Massey being the skeptic and Montifiore the believer.
But we're getting a little ahead of things. If anything "Revelations" offers up a surprisingly large amount of exposition and it's not until the closing moments do we get a sense of how the show will work on a week-to-week basis (not to mention its overall scope). To its detriment (or advantage depending on how you like your TV), the show plays out much more like a feature film and would probably play better as nightly mini-series or a marathon viewing.
For example: the two leads don't even meet until well into the first hour, no doubt leaving impatient viewers in it wake. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.
We're introduced to Dr. Massey as he returns home after discovering his daughter was murdered by a Satanic cult leader Isaiah Haden (Michael Massee), who unfortunately fills the by-the-numbers "crazy, bible quoting maniac" role we've seen numerous times on TV and films. Thousands of miles away, Sister Montafiore is in the midst of investigating the latest religious phenomenon - in this case a shadow image of Jesus that appears on a mountainside in Mexico, except there's nothing large enough nearby to even cause the shadow.
From there we quickly discover that Sister Montafiore works for a somewhat rogue religious foundation that is trying to get to the root of various religious phenomenon around the world. This eventually leads her to a girl in Florida who was struck by lightning (not to mention speaks dead languages while in a coma), who in turn leads her to Massey and (presumably) to the infant shown in the teaser. I won't spoil how all these connections are made, but suffice it to say the reasons behind them tow the line of religion and science.
One of the chief things that struck me about the show is how timely it feels - despite being shot well before the Terri Schiavo case, Massey and Sister Montafiore's battle to prevent the comatose girl from being taken off life support will no doubt stir up similar types of feelings, especially considering how religiously driven the show is.
Equally as compelling is how top-notch and slick the show's production is - like I said before it feels much more like a movie than a "TV show." On the flip side, Pullman and McElhone seem more like bystanders to the plot than actors or characters who the show is built around. In other words, this is more a plot-driven show than a character-based one. Aside from his love for his daughter and Montafiore's zealous devotion to her job, we're given little else to grab on to about their characters. The always great John Rhys-Davies also gets short-changed, appearing little more than to narrate the prologue and provide a brief connection to Massey.
Overall though most of my complaints (as I've mentioned before) are tied to the fact this show doesn't play well in the weekly format. That doesn't mean it isn't a worthwhile investment. With nearly a dozen chances to catch the show in the next week, it's definitely worth checking out. But if you have the TiVo or VCR space, it might be more benefitial to save up the six hours and enjoy them all back to back.