Credit NBC with a deft bit of misdirection, infusing this variation on “The X-Files” with the whiff of controversy by couching its apocalyptic scenario in biblical terms — the obvious goal being to tap into the commercial mother lode of “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Passion of the Christ.” A little chaotic at first, and boring at second, the opening hour ultimately offers enough creepy-crawly moments to warrant another look, though a religious adventure skein reps risky business — irking the most pious while sounding like mumbo jumbo to anyone who can’t cite a favorite psalm.
Written by David Seltzer (“The Omen”), the opening installment flits all over the map without shedding much light on what’s happening. Harvard professor Richard Massey (Bill Pullman) has caught up with the now-jailed Satanist (a menacing Michael Massee) who ritually murdered his daughter. Meanwhile, a nun (Natascha McElhone) investigates signs that the End of Days is near.
Eventually, the two are united by the inexplicable musings of a brain-dead girl, who might be a vessel for the word of God. In her vegetative state, she provides scribbled and murmured clues, foretelling of a pending showdown between Christ and the antichrist (I think).
Crafted as a sort-of “The Ecumenical Files,” Massey is the skeptic who has trouble dismissing little things like his daughter’s image appearing before him. Sister Josepha (McElhone), meanwhile, plays the Mulder to his Scully, convinced that the prophecy of Revelations is upon us, though not entirely sure about how to thwart its arrival. If those parallels weren’t enough, “X-Files” alums John Shiban and Paul Rabwin signed on after the pilot.
I’m guessing the world doesn’t end during this limited run, if only because NBC would like the option of a second season if viewers congregate in sufficient numbers.
Pundits have already had a field day with the notion of a desperate network enlisting God (doubtless through His reps at CAA) to attract viewers. But there’s something bold about a series that embraces religion beyond the bland godliness of “Touched by an Angel” or “Joan of Arcadia.” Inevitably, merely broaching the topic will unleash its own kind of flood, which is perhaps cheaper than buying TV Guide spreads.
Stripped of that sideshow, however, “Revelations” is the most conventional of quest dramas — a classic formula except for the lack of sexual tension (unless they really want to piss people off) between its leads. Indeed, with so much exposition in the premiere, it’s difficult to gain any sense of the characters, overwhelmed as they are by the events that have thrust them together.
The program’s religious overtones thus represent less a wild swing than a calculated marketing swipe, meant to bolster a concept being asked to parachute into “The West Wing’s” fading timeslot against the millions worshipping at “American Idol’s” altar. Under those conditions, winning converts presents a test of biblical proportions, making “Revelations” just the kind of gambit to expect from a network whose scheduling prospects in that hour have shriveled to a “Wing” and a prayer.