Flipping Channels: Will You Believe in Tonight's Alfonso Cuarón-J.J. Abrams Team-Up?



After enduring years of low ratings and programming misfires, the 2013-14 season has been one of redemption thus far for NBC. As expected, Sunday night NFL football easily topped the ratings for fall and early winter, proving such a juggernaut that CBS gladly overpaid to get its own Thursday-night slate of games in the future.

The Peacock got its second boost via the Winter Olympics. While the games weren't quite as dominant as their football brethren, they did well enough to keep NBC on top during most nights they were featured in primetime, particularly during the final week. It also helped that their competitors largely avoided airing anything of consequence opposite them.

Now NBC hopes to avoid the post-NFL Sunday-night slump that's seen its lineup plummet during the winter and spring. The first show it intends to lure audiences, Believe, gets a special Monday premiere 9 p.m. tonight on WSMV-Channel 4 before debuting in its regular time slot 8 p.m. next Sunday (the pilot episode repeats at 7 p.m.).

Believe spotlights the adventures of a very special girl named Bo (Johnny Sequoyah). Her powers include levitation, telekinesis and even the ability to control nature. Of course these gifts put her life in danger, and she becomes both a protected and hunted quarry. Interestingly, the one person who can keep her safe is hardly in a position to do so. He's on death row, scheduled for execution.

He also happens to be innocent — the victim of circumstances that have led Tate (Jake McLaughlin) to give up on life. But the relationship that develops with Bo provides a new focus, as well as multiple complications, particularly as the series unfolds.

Aside from its premise, Believe has two heavy hitters responsible for its storylines and production. Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) has joined forces with the prolific J.J. Abrams (currently responsible for Revolution and the forthcoming Star Wars film, among many other things). The creative fruits of this union will be closely watched — especially since the show airs against the program many consider broadcast television's finest drama, CBS's The Good Wife. (At least it won't have True Detective to keep viewers magnetized to HBO.)

Confidence in Crisis
The contention that the rich get different (or preferential) treatment within the criminal justice system will definitely fuel NBC's other new Sunday night drama. Crisis (WSMV, 9 p.m.) also debuts March 16, and it examines the official response to a tragedy that involves the children of the nation's power elite.

Meg Fitch (Gillian Anderson, welcome in her first regular weekly series role since The X-Files) has always gotten her way in Washington. She's the well-connected CEO of a huge corporation, and used to telling others how things should be done. But when her child is among those kidnapped during a school outing, Fitch suddenly experiences what it's like to be on the outside, distanced from the action.

She and the other parents, among them the POTUS, demand immediate resolution to the situation. Meanwhile, class chaperone and parent Francis Gibson (Dermot Mulroney) is among those on the scene, and he must assess the situation and decide from there how to proceed. But whether he's a friend or enemy isn't quite clear — one of several mysteries to be resolved over the show's 13 episodes.

Crisis creator Rand Ravich is well aware that a similarly themed show has already bombed this year — CBS's ill-fated Hostages — and he's already been careful to let everyone know this show's quite different in tone and scope from that one. NBC even gave the program a couple of weeks off during production to fix perceived problems within the storyline.

Ravich is also well aware that audiences are growing increasingly weary of serialized shows with uncertain futures. Few things in the world of TV drama are more aggravating than investing time and energy in a show only to see it yanked halfway through with unanswered plot points and questions. As if anticipating that concern, Ravich told TV Guide, "We have a story that you can enjoy from beginning to end in every episode while you're going along for the serialized ride."

Let's hope NBC at least allows Crisis to make it through its first 13 episodes before either changing the time slot or pulling the plug. The presence of Anderson (who also has a recurring role on Hannibal) and Mulroney at least promises a high caliber of acting.

George Lopez returns
When his last situation comedy was pulled by ABC in 2007 after almost a five-year run, George Lopez had some not-so-friendly words for the network specifically and broadcast TV in general. He later got a late night run on TBS that didn't last nearly as long (not quite two seasons). That exit wasn't nearly as caustic, but Lopez did say afterwards that perhaps neither sitcoms nor talk shows were suited to his style.

Well, he's giving half-hour comedy another shot with Saint George (FX, 8 p.m. Thursday). Billed as "semi-autobiographical," the show features a Latino entrepreneur with an unusual family (to put it mildly). Their ranks range from his mother (Olga Merediz), uncle (Danny Trejo, the veteran character actor best known as Robert Rodriguez's action hero Machete) and cousin (David Zayas) to a white ex-wife (Jenn Lyon) and their son (Kaden Gibson). The show focuses on his turbulent life, the uneasy relationship between his ex and his mother, and the problems caused by his uncle, cousin and son.

Nothing Lopez has done in episodic TV has come close to the wit and flair he's demonstrated in the stand-up performances recorded in his HBO specials. How the writing staff utilizes cable's creative freedom should be instructive, although Lopez has said in several interviews he's going for laughs much more than social messages. Here's hoping Saint George better suits his skill set.

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