On its face, “Past Life” is a respectable enough stab at another Fox-y paranormal procedural (say that three times fast), pairing a believer and a skeptic (now where have we heard that before?) to investigate really cold cases. It’s just that after screening two episodes, the rules surrounding the reincarnation hokum remain confoundingly fuzzy, so much so that it’s hard to believe the series has enough worthwhile incarnations to remain viable very long before dying and — unlike its unfortunate guest stars — staying that way.
George Carlin once questioned the likelihood of reincarnation by noting the math didn’t quite work out. After all, the Earth went from a few people to billions, meaning that for past lives to be possible, somebody would have to be printing up souls, thus ruining their value.
In similar fashion, the past lives here seem conspicuously calibrated to create unsolved cases that are recent enough so as to allow a perky past-life Ph. D. (Kelli Giddish) and a tormented ex-cop investigator (Nicholas Bishop) to dredge up living connections to these mysteries. So much for helping a fellow who used to be, say, Julius Caesar. Or maybe that’s for season seven.
“I saw the man who killed me!” a confused 14-year-old boy bellows in the premiere, after a jittery “Blair Witch”-style flashback in which he presumably sees glimpses of what transpired back when he was somebody else.
Those looking for help seek out Giddish’s Dr. Kate McGinn, who has enlisted Price Whatley (Bishop) to assist her, despite the doubts her colleagues harbor about him. Those include “The West Wing’s” Richard Schiff, featured so sparingly as their boss (presumably) as to be relegated to a virtual nonentity.
“So you really believe all this crap,” the boy says to McGinn. And that she does. Though unlike “The X-Files” or even “Fringe,” our heroine lacks the heft to make the character convincing, and the sparring banter with the square-jawed Bishop (another rugged Aussie import) feels tired even when trying to be playful. The same goes for some of the cheekier aspects of the writing — like having Kate’s mother (played by Judith Ivey) suggest that husbands are “like Jesus: Just another white man telling me what to do.” That’s a funny line, but almost out of place in a series so steadfastly plot driven that character is essentially an afterthought.
Mostly, “Past Life” appears calculated to latch onto the preoccupation with ghosts and the spiritual world that has broken out all over cable, mostly in the form of unscripted series featuring nimrods with night-vision lenses.
Conveniently, the first two installments feature young people whose past selves experienced something a few decades ago, with the second potentially righting a wrong involving a death-row inmate — providing what Kate describes as “the opportunity to reset the natural balance.”
“Past Life’s” scheduling is a mixed blessing: After an “American Idol”-fueled launch, Fox will shift the series to Thursdays, with the Winter Olympics looming on NBC. The bottom line is that while the show tackles its spooky subject matter earnestly enough, for those expecting to enjoy a mere single life, time’s simply too precious to squander on this.