The Messengers arrives on The CW at an unfortunate time: when the network is actually doing well. Had the science-fiction drama premiered two or three years ago, it may have passed as a serviceable Heroes ripoff floating around on a confused network (or just gone ignored). Recently, however, The CW found its magical and playful niche with a roster of surprisingly great shows. Just this year, The Flash debuted as the most fun comic book adaptation on television, Jane the Virgin surprised everyone by taking an absurd premise and elevating it into something charming and sublime, and iZombie is shaping up to be a weird little drama that manages to do the impossible: reinvigorate the zombie genre. Put these all side-by-side with The Messengers, premiering Friday, and the latter is downright disappointing and uninspired.
The pilot performs the requisite expository duties by setting up a premise that feels a bit too familiar. An object that crashes to Earth has mysterious effects, resulting in a small group of strangers around the country waking up from a near-death experience with strange powers. The strangers are from different walks of life (but all, of course, harbor damaging secrets): scientist Vera (Shantel VanSanten), with a missing son, witnesses the crashing object (and will, I’m sure, find herself caught in the middle of a government cover-up); young mother Erin (Sofia Black-D’Elia) has a seven-year-old daughter and an abusive ex-husband; shaggy-haired, bullied teenager Peter (Joel Courtney) finds himself suddenly fighting back against his tormentors; Joshua (Jon Fletcher), a televangelist, uses his near-death experience to further his career; and Raul (JD Pardo) is an agent stuck undercover in a drug cartel. Upon waking up after the meteor — or whatever — crash, each person develops mysterious powers, from seeing the future to sudden strength (which coincidentally would come in handy if you are, respectively, a televangelist or a bullying victim).
It’s unclear exactly when or how these people (along with another woman who suddenly wakes up after a seven-year coma) will ultimately converge, though the series’ promotional materials keep harping on Revelations and the impending Rapture. (Again, maybe The Messengers is a victim of poor timing: The Leftovers already has the dramatic version of a Rapture-like event successfully covered; Last Man on Earth is currently experimenting intriguingly with the comedic side.) And though it’s just a pilot, it still doesn’t provide enough intrigue or uniqueness to bring viewers running back for the second episode.
The biggest problem is how much the show is clear about. There is no subtlety to be found within the script. When a teacher confronts Peter and mentions his parents, Peter doesn’t hint around his past. Instead, he tells the teacher to contact “a group foster home, where I live,” placing such a laughable emphasis on “live,” as if it wasn’t already clear enough. But the most egregious, and unintentionally funny, lack of elegance comes when The Messengers goes all in on explaining that this will be an angels vs. demons series: The mysterious strangers have wings — actual wings — show up in their mirrored reflections, while the devilish man known, of course, as “The Man” (Diogo Morgado) literally crashes to Earth in a ball of fire. At one point, as we watch our main characters, a narration actually explains, “Nothing is random. Nothing is a coincidence. Everything is happening for a reason,” and it’s impossible not to roll your eyes.
The Messengers isn’t entirely without potential. It may be worth watching a few more episodes in hopes that it will simultaneously rein in its overwritten script and intensify the mysterious elements — and, above all, find a way to introduce some originality into a tired premise. For now, The Messengers — which is stuck in the dead zone of Friday nights — is more reminiscent of the old, shrug-worthy version of The CW than the heartening resurgence we’re currently witnessing.