Pilot Review: Past Life

The Brief – Your standard procedural type thing, but the team is a group specialising in past life regression and their witnesses are reincarnations of victims.

It’s taken me a month to get round to watching this pilot and writing the review during which time Past Life aired three episodes, lost 60% of its audience and got cancelled. Making my review a little bit pointless.

This is one of those shows that should never have made it out of proposal stage. Everyone involved threw everything they had at it, but they were never going to recover from the fact that it’s a bad concept. The suspension of disbelief required to appreciate this show is just too high. You not only have to believe in reincarnation, but you have to believe in it to the extent that you’ll accept people recalling their past life accurately enough to obtain the clues required to solve a murder. The pilot does tries to address the scepticism, a character says “if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed it”, which is fine for the people inside the television, but those of us sitting on our sofas are too aware we’re seeing it through the lens of our television screens.

I guess as a science fiction fan I should really be able to appreciate a show regardless of whether I believe in the concept. I mean I’ll happily watch Fringe, Supernatural, or Buffy and accept that there are parallel universes, demons and vampires just slightly out of sight, but why couldn’t I just suspend the disbelief for Past Life? Is it just that my brain is so used to procedurals being realistic, or at worst exaggerations of what’s real, that it is completely unable to accept that something that looks, sounds and acts like a procedural is in fact borderline science fiction? Is there some subliminal message that has to be used to communicate that, one that Fringe, Lost (ymmv) and the like send out, but Past Life failed? Whatever the reason, apparently 6 million Americans agreed with me and didn’t bother tuning in for episode 3.

It’s a real shame because I liked the characters and writing, it wasn’t flashy or spectacular but it was solid and interesting. The characters felt like real people, not too quirky, not too dull; they had emotions that while very familiar in real life seldom make it into TV pilots – exasperation, apathy, that faint mania you get when a puzzle is solving itself. I did role my eyes when it was revealed the lead man was troubled following the death of his wife, a painfully overused trope on American TV at the moment (CSI: NY, The Mentalist, and at least 3 other shows that I won’t spoiler). The female lead was pleasantly chirpy, sympathetic without being overly maternal, although she had her own trope of ‘commitment phobic dating problems’.

It’s not enough these days to be a regular old crime solving drama, you’ve got to have some kind of MacGuffin to pin it on, like the episode naming convention from Friends – The One With the Lie Expert, The One with the Missing People, The One with the Pretend Psychic – it’s pretty tricky to find something new. The One with The Reincarnation is dead on arrival, and it isn’t coming back.

Links: Official Site, TV.com, wikipedia, imdb.

Reviews: TVSquad thought it was ok but unremarkable.

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  1. September 3rd, 2010
  2. September 12th, 2014
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