ABC’s ‘The Whispers’ Is Summer’s Creepiest New Series


There is a part of me that thinks I only liked The Whispers as much as I did because I’ve been waiting to love The Whispers for months now, since first hearing about the premise. But, in fact, there are actually plenty of fun, eerie, and interesting aspects of the series. At the center is an engaging mystery that is, thankfully, told at just the right pace: the show never reveals too much and blows the intrigue, but it also never leaves viewers totally in the dark, too frustrated or confused to want to continue. The problem is that The Whispers can’t just be a supernatural mystery — no drama can just be one thing — which means that it falls prey to soapy interpersonal drama that occasionally pulls the focus away from the otherworldly.

The Whispers brilliantly plays on parental fears by using children as the innocent, unknowing conductors for evil. The pilot opens with a young girl, Harper, talking to her imaginary friend, who’s known as “Drill.” Following Drill’s instructions, she packs her childish backpack with tools and lures her mother up to the backyard treehouse — guilting her mom by noting how often she is on the phone instead of paying attention — calmly instructs her to step on an “X,” and then watches as she plunges through the floorboards to the concrete ground below. It’s certainly one of this summer season’s most stirring openings to a television show, but then it has to accomplish the task of keeping that momentum going. Does it succeed? Sort of.

At the center of all this is the unknown entity “Drill”; ABC would very much like to let you know that Drill is not an alien, though that was the original premise of the series, before the pilot was retooled. (For what it’s worth, I still believe that The Whispers is dabbling in extraterrestrials — though, again, maybe that’s just because I’ve been looking forward to this alien-centric show for about a year now.) Drill communicates with children through electricity (flickering lights, blaring car radio systems, and, of course, kids’ toys, which is a creepy delight). The scenes between the children and Drill — meaning, the scenes where the children are talking to themselves, staring off into the distance at someone that we can’t see, and blindly following orders — are all done well. Drill convinces the kids that they’re all playing a game (“It’s the most important game, and I have to win,” says one child) and gives them instructions on how to win. These instructions include telling young Minx (Kylie Rogers) to hack into her US Defense Department operative father Wes’ computer. She even recruits another young friend to help her.

The other big mystery involves Agent Claire Bennigan (Lily Rabe), who has a deaf son Henry (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) who also communicates with Drill, unbeknownst to her, and a husband who died in a mysterious plane crash (and whenever the particulars of a death are described as “mysterious” in a supernatural thriller, then you know not to believe everything you hear about it). She’s a “child specialist” called in to investigate the aforementioned treehouse incident but soon gets wrapped up in the spiraling mythology, especially when she learns of her personal connection to it.

Unfortunately, Claire’s story is also where The Whispers finds some problems, getting bogged down in character drama — she is having an affair with the married Wes; Minx accurately tells Claire she’s “the woman who makes my mom cry” — and loses its a bit of its sharpness. Maybe it’s because the characters aren’t developed too much within the first three episodes (which is forgivable since it’s so early in the series) or maybe it’s just because yet another TV couple grappling with an extramarital affair can’t compete with the inherent supernatural elements that abound in The Whispers, but whatever the reason, this is when the show begins to meander.

Still, The Whispers offers plenty of intrigue and weirdness to hold your attention, and to make slogging through the rougher parts worth it. It’s already on track to become the most promising new series of the summer (which isn’t that hard when the competition so far includes Aquarius and Wayward Pines , though the latter is occasionally more fun just because of its ridiculousness) and will likely have a very successful first season — as long as it doesn’t blow through plot too rapidly.