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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
PAST LIFE (FOX)
(Tuesdays at 9:00/8:00c starting in January; TRT: 43:16)
The network's description: "Have you ever experienced dj vu or met someone you thought seemed familiar? Do you believe in karma, fate or love at first sight? From writer David Hudgins ("Friday Night Lights"), and inspired by the book "The Reincarnationist" by M.J. Rose, comes PAST LIFE, a new drama series about an unlikely pair of past-life detectives who investigate whether what is happening to you today is the result of who you were before. DR. KATE MCGINN (Kelli Giddish, "All My Children") is not your typical psychologist. Confident, outspoken and highly educated, she works at The Talmadge Center for Behavioral Health in New York City, a world-renowned institute dedicated to the study of the science of the soul. After experiencing a past-life regression in her 20s, Kate became a believer in reincarnation. Using regression therapy and her natural gift for reading people, Kate helps solve the mysteries of her troubled clients who suffer from present-day problems caused by past-life traumas. She believes there are levels of consciousness and explanations for human behavior that science can't begin to explain. Accustomed to skeptics, but not bothered by them, Kate is an unapologetic believer and a force of nature who marches to the beat of her own drummer. Her partner, PRICE WHATLEY (Nicholas Bishop, "Home and Away"), is a different story. A former NYPD homicide detective, pragmatic and cynical, Price is a damaged soul who constantly battles grief and guilt over the accidental death of his wife. Price feels that Kate, though not certifiable, certainly operates on the fringes of science. It's a volatile relationship, but with Price's solid detective skills, and Kate's penchant for out-of-the-box thinking, together they make a formidable, if somewhat dysfunctional, team. A fast-paced emotional thrill ride, each episode finds Price and Kate working with their colleagues to unravel a new mystery involving the past-lives of their clients. DR. MALACHI TALMADGE (Richard Schiff, "The West Wing") is Kate's mentor and the center's namesake, an avuncular but gruff elder statesman who is a legend in the field of cognitive research. DR. RISHI KARNA (Ravi Patel, "Scrubs") is the rookie of the group, a baby-faced therapist from Calcutta who loves bad American TV, Cuban jazz and driving everyone crazy."
What did they leave out? The show's original title was actually "The Reincarnationist."
The plot in a nutshell: The Powells are at a loss about what to do with their troubled son Noah (Cayden Boyd). His latest incident: collapsing during a basketball game after once again being overcome by images of a menacing figure threatening to kill him. Referred to the special investigations division of the Talmadge Center for Behavioral Health, her case worker Kate McGinn (Kelli Giddish) tells her the unthinkable - those images are actually memories of Noah's past life coming to the surface. Obviously skeptical, the Powells nevertheless agree to give Kate a chance. Her solution: take Noah through a regression therapy to suss out the details about the incident and see if they can find out who exactly Noah used to be and why he or she is still in turmoil. Armed with those answers, Noah then should be on the road to recovery.
Aiding Kate in her quest are the owlish Malachi Talmadge (Richard Schiff), a legend in said field; Rishi Karna (Ravi Patel), a quirky doctor; and Price Whatley (Nicholas Bishop), a former cop who's still not quite a believer in all this. Sure enough, in time Kate uncovers that Noah's former self, a girl maybe named Maria, was not only murdered but the culprit owned a dog, lived near a body of water and did the deed when it was snowing outside. Price in turn takes those parameters and just so happens to uncover a lead: two young girls were kidnapped in Washington, D.C. one month before Noah was born. But the parents of the missing girls aren't as open as the Powells to Kate's ideas. She nevertheless gets them to meet with Noah who in turn instinctively knows his former self's room. From here more clues surface as the result of said reunion and you can pretty much fill in the blanks going forward.
What works: In terms of the rules the show sets up and the universe it establishes, "Past Life" proves to be a passable procedural. Giddish and Bishop also turn out to be likeable leads - she's a bombastic, headstrong Texan who finds life is more interesting when you believe in something, he's a sardonic New Yorker who plays along on the off chance it will lead him to a reunion with his late wife. Together they do their best to take us through the procedural machine...
What doesn't: ...unfortunately it's all based on something quite silly. It's one thing to make scientific allusions to things like reincarnation, it's another to clearly establish it as fact and build a procedural around it. The closest analogy I can think of is picture "Lie to Me" but instead of using the very real science of micro-expressions, Cal Lightman used the very fake science of phrenology (reading bumps and fissures in the skull to determine a person's traits). Sure on the surface it might work - "he's a liar, the moon-shaped ridge on his skull tells me so!" doesn't sound any more crazy than "he's a liar, his millisecond glimpse downward tells me so!" - and be filled with interesting characters, but it still wouldn't escape the fact it's having grown people act like you can determine who murdered someone by feeling their heads. And while shows like "Ghost Whisperer" and "Medium" also play with our notions of reality, their characters never claim to be scientists or searching for proof of the supernatural. Here reincarnation is not only proven - and the sole doubter in the principal cast essentially converted - but it's treated so matter of factly you'd think they were talking about micro-expressions. It's just as wonky as you can imagine. In the end "Past Life" isn't a bad show...
The bottom line: ...it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.