×

TV Review: ‘The Passage’

"The Passage" is doomed by its unwillingness to commit to its own darkness.

Based on Justin Cronin’s best-selling novel, Fox’s new drama “The Passage” has the raw material of a hit: Richly detailed source material, an appealing star in Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and a compelling hook. The show assays a world in which an attempt to cure diseases by harnessing a dark sort of power results in the rise of a vampiric race. It ought to work: Hubris leading to man’s own destruction is a theme both time-tested and, these days, particularly fresh.

And yet “The Passage,” in its first three episodes, is doomed by its unwillingness to commit to its own darkness. Sequences in which the vampires haunt the dreams and minds of their prey are — in apparent concession to Fox’s status as a broadcast network — flaccid and uncompelling. (No one would expect Fox to broadcast sequences as violent as those on FX’s “The Strain” or “American Horror Story,” but those shows at their best exhibit a nightmarish tension that’s missing here.) And the show’s frame, as a story narrated by a child at the center of a nefarious government plot, deadens what could otherwise be a propulsive pace.

In a characteristically thudding bit of narration, Saniyya Sidney, a gifted child performer, tells us, “My name is Amy Bellafonte. I didn’t used to believe in monsters. I do now.” Her character exists in order to be ported from place to place by Gosselaar (who’s hired to transport her to a government lab before having a change of heart and going on the lam) and to give us bits of exposition about how the world fell apart. “So many things led to what happened,” she says at one particularly unrevealing moment. “It was a perfect storm.”

Much of “The Passage” feels like that line: A placeholder waiting for the sharper, crisper second draft. Sidney and Gosselaar’s bond is charming — and proof that Gosselaar, despite bad luck with recent projects, has become a reliable player on television. But it’s reliant, too, on a dynamic that feels lazily overmotivated. (Can any accidental parental figure on a TV show ever just like kids without a backstory of grief motivating it all?) Fans of Cronin’s novel will surely show up to support this show, but one wonders if their patience will fray if the series doesn’t, soon, find a way to express its interesting ideas that moves beyond narration and underbaked dream sequences — something that feels, even if epic scale is out of the question, a bit more operatic. After all, we’re talking about the end of the world here. “It was a perfect storm” won’t cut it. But compellingly depicting the storm just might.

“The Passage.” Fox. Jan. 14. (Three episodes screened for review.) 

Cast: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saniyya Sidney, Jamie McShane, Caroline Chikezie, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Brianne Howey, McKinley Belcher III, Henry Ian Cusick, Vincent Piazza

Executive Producers: Liz Heldens, Matt Reeves, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Adam Kassan, Jason Ensler

TV Review: 'The Passage'

More TV

  • The Play That Goes Wrong review

    BBC Orders Comedy Series Based on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

    The BBC has greenlit “The Goes Wrong Show,” a new series based on Mischief Theatre’s popular “The Play That Goes Wrong” stage production about a troupe that puts on disastrous plays. The stage show has transferred from London’s West End to Broadway for a J.J. Abrams-produced version described by Variety as “a broad, silly and [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Jussie Smollett court

    Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Say He Was Victim of Police 'Spectacle'

    Jussie Smollett’s legal team issued a defiant statement on Thursday night, saying the “Empire” actor feels betrayed by the justice system and hinting at a political motive for his prosecution. Smollett was arrested early Thursday on a felony charge of filing a false police report. He was released after a court hearing on $100,000 bond, [...]

  • Carra Patterson Sarah Levy Paola Lazaro

    Fox Casts Four Leads in 'Patty's Auto' Pilot

    Fox has announced the casting of four lead characters for its multi-cam comedy pilot “Patty’s Auto,” including the eponymous Patty. Inspired by Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic, an auto repair shop with all female mechanics, the project centers on Patty, the intimidating owner of Patty’s Auto who will be played by “Straight Outta Compton” alumna [...]

  • Adam Pally Abby Elliott

    Adam Pally, Abby Elliott Join Cast of NBC Comedy Pilot 'Uninsured'

    NBC pilot “Uninsured” has cast four of its series regulars, with Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project,” “The President Show”) and Abby Elliott (“Saturday Night Live,” “Odd Mom Out”) playing the young married couple at the center of the show. Pally will play Dave, who is described as a “natural hype man with a good heart.” Elliott [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Appeared in Documentary on

    Jussie Smollett Recently Hosted Doc on Lynching, Filmmaker Talks 'Coincidence'

    In May 2018, Jussie Smollett appeared as the narrator and correspondent in an episode of the Epix documentary series “America Divided” that explored the subject of hate crimes, specifically lynching, in the state of Tennessee. Now that the “Empire” actor has been charged with filing a false police report and Chicago police are convinced he [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content