This is a spoiler-free first impression of FOX’s midseason drama The Passage, which made its world premiere at San Diego Comic-Con. Since the series doesn’t debut until 2019, some elements of the pilot may change before it airs, in which case, this post will be updated with a full review prior to broadcast. You can check out the first trailer for the series here.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: The government is attempting to develop a cure-all vaccine for the world’s diseases, but inadvertently creates a virus that could potentially turn humanity into monsters and bring about the apocalypse instead. One “special” character could be the key to everything, but she can only rely on a rogue agent with a tragic past and a heart of gold to protect her. (And did we mention there are vampires?)
On paper, The Passage reads like a mashup of The Strain, The Last of Us, and Logan, but the series is actually based on Justin Cronin’s bestselling trilogy of novels, the first of which was published in 2010. Our protagonist is 10-year-old Amy Bellafonte (played by 11-year-old Saniyya Sidney, with the kind of nuance and naturalism that would put most grown-ups to shame), an orphaned kid who is chosen to be a test subject for the mysterious Project NOAH, which usually limits its experiments to death row inmates, but suddenly needs to expand its candidate pool. Loyal federal agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is dispatched to bring Amy in, but quickly realizes that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark when his higher-ups become increasingly aggressive about acquiring this innocent preteen with no family to look out for her.
Double-crosses, shoot-outs and odd couple-bonding ensue – all standard broadcast pilot fare – but the show really hinges on the burgeoning father-daughter dynamic between Brad and Amy, and it’s here that The Passage proves it’s worth sticking with. Gosselaar is instantly engaging as a company man who only needs the gentlest nudge to do the right thing, and he pulls off the action hero routine with convincing swagger. (It’s nice to see that FOX wants to keep Gosselaar in the family, considering he was one of the most compelling parts of the network’s tragically shortlived baseball drama Pitch last season.)
Sidney matches him with the confidence of a performer twice her age; Amy has been through the wringer even before Brad crashes into her life, and the precocious actress makes all the right choices in portraying Amy’s watchful cynicism and guarded vulnerability. Unfortunately, at least in the pilot, The Passage is far less compelling when exploring the Project NOAH side of the equation – while it’s clear that attempts have been made to humanize the scientists who are probably going to doom us all, it’s here that the show seems to be checking off the standard sci-fi boxes, and the creature design of the infected humans can’t help but seem a little cheap when measured against the prosthetics seen in The Walking Dead and The Strain (an unfortunate comparison, considering those shows are probably working with a higher budget, but somewhat unavoidable).
What’s most promising about the series – at least if it stays faithful to Cronin’s novels – is its storytelling potential. Without getting into spoilers, if the show actually resonates with viewers, it’s got the type of scope that could spawn a franchise to rival The Walking Dead. Of course, between Minority Report, Almost Human, and the recently-cancelled Lucifer (which was revived at Netflix – a far more reliable home for serialized sci-fi), high-concept genre shows have had a hard time establishing a foothold on Fox over the past few years unless they feature young Batman or various X-Men, so it remains to be seen whether The Passage can buck that trend, no matter how ambitious it is.
But if the show is given the time to evolve, its future could be bright – even if the same can’t be said for some of its characters.