One of ABC’s newest shows is EMERGENCE. A not-so-slow burn mystery drama that is far less soapy than most of the network’s fare (not that there’s anything wrong with soap), it finds a smart sheriff risking everything, including her family, to save a little girl with no memory and strange powers. Or so she claims. Why did she show up on a beach where a plane had just crashed, and who is the secretive (possibly) government agency who cleaned up the site and want her?
Allison Tolman (Fargo) leads the cast as Jo Evans, the sheriff who finds young Piper (Alexa Swinton, Billions). Instantly drawn to the girl, Jo takes Piper, whom she names because Piper doesn’t even recall her moniker, home to meet Jo’s daughter, Mia (Ashley Aufderheide, The Slap), and father, Ed (Clancy Brown, Thor: Ragnarok and a long list of voice acting roles). As the authorities close in around them, Jo seeks help from recent ex and father of her daughter, Alex (Donald Faison, Scrubs), investigator Benny (Owain Yeoman, The Mentalist), and Officer Chris Minetto (Robert Bailey Jr., The Night Shift).
Tolman is fantastic, as one would expect if they’ve seen her in other shows. She has an ability to express complex emotions in ways that few can that feels totally naturally. She balances the duties and power of her job with her familial bonds and noble qualities very well. She alone is worth watching, even in a lesser show. Swinton is also impressive, and the rest hold their own alongside them.
As for the mystery, it’s intriguing. It feels a bit familiar, as with so many sci-fi attempts on broadcast television, most of which unfortunately fail quickly, often not due to a lack of quality. But it also feels fresh, with a specific story that hasn’t quite been told before, at least not in this exact way. As I like to say, it’s all been done, but it hasn’t necessarily been done the way you want to do it.
With fine actors and a decent concept, it falls to the execution to be the deciding factor. EMERGENCE is compelling and mostly well made. It’s easy to get hooked into it, and little about it feels cheesy. The tone and style are engrossing and done competently, and I enjoyed my viewing of it. I am very interested in tuning in for further installments.
One thing I do hope has a larger explanation in EMERGENCE is why Jo and her clan feel such immediate protectiveness of Piper. I totally get taking care of a helpless kid, but Jo is risking her own loved ones to save Piper, and no one seems to mind. It’s not a decision just anyone could make, with most putting their own family above the welfare of a stranger. Heroic, sure, but with grounded characters, it feels a little off. Unless one of Piper’s abilities is to inspire such devotion.
My other issue with the pilot is why is Jo so confident she can keep Piper hidden when the bad guys tracked her down so easily? Even with Piper removing the mysterious electronic ball from her head at the end of the episode, one would think the agency could still find her, especially with the family staying put. Shouldn’t Jo be on the run, not returning to her home?
I’m not saying the above are minor gripes, because I don’t think they are, but the rest of the hour is solid enough that I’m willing to overlook them or suspend belief for now. The first is easily corrected, and the second, while a glaring plot hole, is necessary for the premise set up. As long as EMERGENCE doesn’t make a habit of such things, one can somewhat forgive this one for now.
EMERGENCE airs Tuesdays on ABC.