E: I managed to catch the second episode of Fox’s newest supernatural buddy drama. My dear brother referred to this midseason replacement show as Past Life Whisperer, and his witticism is not without merit. There’s a decent bit of similarity between the shows, except Ghost Whisperer has some humor and boobies, and Past Life has a bunch of folks with graduate degrees and an alcoholic ex-cop. Which is to say, Past Life would like you to think that it is Serious Science, except of course it’s not at all. So if you can look at it like a more supernatural Numb3rs, and that’s your thing, and you don’t miss the humor, you might do okay.
Kelli Giddish stars as Dr. Kate McGinn (emphasis on the Doctor, please), a past life regression specialist. I’m sure her treatment philosophy was spelled out in the pilot, which I missed, but it seems to boil down to this: people regress into their past lives when there’s some sort of important wrong that they can now right. Ghost Whisperer Heaven, meet karma. At any rate, that’s what happened this week; orphaned college student Corrine (the twitchy Betty Gilpin, recently seen as the Florrick’s would be nanny in “Painkiller”) has debilitating flashes of falling off a cliff. She actually feels the pain of this past death (yikes), and seeks refuge in drugs. This, unfortunately, is going to lose her custody of her teenage sister Susan (how very Vampire Diaries), so clever Susan – eager to avoid DDS – finds Dr. Kate and drags her unwilling sister along for some help.
I wish I hadn’t missed the pilot, because I’m really curious about this little institute and what it’s really for, and most of all, who pays for it. I’d like to see someone try putting a past life regression specialist past their insurance carrier. And it’s not like Corrine and Susan are rolling in the dough. The institute might be, however, since the resident medical specialist (Dr. Rishi Karna, played by Ravi Patel) is up for some sort of genius grant. We have the former cop, played by Nicholas Bishop, very reminiscent of The Wedding Singer‘s Matthew Glave; the character’s name is Price Whately, and he’s got a dead wife he’s obsessing over. (Kate, on the other hand, just has cats.) And finally, we have Dr. Malachi Talmadge, some sort of authority figure played with a world weary mastery (and acting rings around his costars) by The West Wing‘s Richard Schiff. His few moments on screen crackle with dry intelligence.
Sadly, it’s the less interesting Kate and Price who take Corrine to different sites suggested by her flashes, hoping to spark further memories to explain who she was and why she died and what it all has to do with a murder case. The mystery, as it unfolds, is actually pretty interesting. Corrine has become obsessed with sunflowers, and dated all her papers in April (even though she hasn’t been going to class during the spring semester); what’s going to happen then? The team finds a man on death row, the handyman at the Sunflower (!) Apartments about to be executed in April for killing a tenant. Corrine’s “regressions” indicate another killer, and the team explores more than one potential suspect until they find not only the killer, but Corrine’s past self and the role everyone played in the murder. The way it all comes together is actually pretty diverting.
What I’m not sure of is the sort of active nature of the past self. The memories are one thing, and even the sudden fascination with sunflowers (a clue!) but the execution date wasn’t something that Corrine’s old self would have known. It isn’t just old associations coming up – it’s a buried entity trying to tell Corrine something, which is a little freaky. I would have been WAY more freaked out if I were Corrine, although I could see how that might get old if every week’s subject reacted that way. My least favorite moment was when Kate went into full ditzy sexpot mode to get a busboy to give them information at a Country Club. Really? I thought we were supposed to take her seriously as a professional. Also, I’m a bit baffled by the talk of Whately’s late wife (how can he move on when people leave pamphlets on his doorstep to get him to go see his wife’s favorite author?). I mean, this show by its nature can’t believe in “the Other Side”; if we all have past lives, it means we’re all on this side, right? And if his wife has been reborn, she can’t be old enough to be contacting him, can she? Oh, whatever.
So, all in all, the show gets a verdict of not terrible. It didn’t disappoint me like Human Target, but that’s probably because I expected more from Human Target. I so much enjoyed even those tiny moment where Richard Schiff gets to wearily guide his colleagues. And the mystery engaged me a lot more than I expected it to. Maybe I’ll catch an episode or two later, when the Olympics and Oscar season are over, and American Idol isn’t taking up all of my week, if it’s still around.