You can tell ABC’s midseason Miracles is gonna be a dark time when the opening voice warning us of “intense subject matter” comes across so whisperingly ominous. Despite its title and homey station break image, the series is not one of those unchallengingly inspirational religio-fests like Touched By An Angel. Nope, Miracles aims to stake out grimmer thematic territory: the solemn “more things in Heaven & Earth” plot-land of movies like The Sixth Sense.
Earnest series lead Skeet Ulrich plays Paul Callan, a traveling debunker employed by the Catholic Church to investigate reports of miracles. Callan is like Harry Houdini was w./ mediums: rigorous in exposing fake miracles yet forever yearning to come across the real thing. The series opens showing him at work. Confronted by the 140-year-old intact body of a nun, he demonstrates that her seeming unnatural preservation is the result of apricot seed nutrients in the soil.
All this hard-nosed scientific investigation can be tough on a fella’s faith, however. “What’s the point of faith if it’s never been tested?” priest/mentor Father Bellamy (Hector Elizondo) asks in his patented seriously hoarse voice (lots of muttering on this show – glad I have closed captioning). Our hero goes on sabbatical ’til he seemingly receives a call from the priest asking him to check out a boy in Arizona named Tommy Ferguson (not as cool a name as Cole Sear, but never mind). You can bet Callan’ll be coming across something inexplicable this time: otherwise the whole series’d be dead on the tracks.
Callan’s case turns out to be a frail boy w./ an incurable disease plus the power to heal others by hugging ’em and saying that he hopes they feel better. Trouble is: Tommy’s healing powers come at the expense of his own health – every time he uses it, his own disease grows stronger. First sign the kid is doomed as doomed can be: when he enters a dialog w./ our hero by asking, “What happens when you die?”
At the same time, Callan is being plagued by portentous dreams & visions: of a water tower w./ the daunting legend “God Is Coming” (this is one of those stories where lots of ordinary stuff is made to look ominous by lingering on it), of a rain-drenched railroad crossing, of young Tommy bleeding from his eyes (okay, that last creeped me out a bit). Confronted by something truly unexplainable for the first time, our hero can’t tell whether its source is divine or demonic. Trapped in a car by the fateful crossing, Callan sees a series of words spelled out on the dash in blood, but even here their message is maddeningly ambiguous:
“GOD IS NOW HERE” or “GOD IS NOWHERE.”
Which is the right message? You don’t expect ’em to tip that in the pilot, do you? Writer Richard Hatem and producer David (Angel) Greenwalt are counting on this central mystery to keep pulling you back. Scheduled against the secular criminalists of C.S.I.: Miami, the show presents a canny kind of counter-programming. Where the C.S.I. franchise is designed to answer every asked question by the end of each hour, Miracles wants to throw out more & more open-ended puzzles as the series progresses. Is the American viewing public in the mood for such spiritual ambiguity? Probably not. But I’m guessing those viewers who miss Chris Carter’s Millennium will be intrigued.
Near the end of the debut ep, Callan is contacted by a mysterious figure: our hero’s investigative predecessor, now working for a parallel organization. All the signs, he tells Callan, indicate “Something Big Is Coming.” Wonder if the show’ll last long enough to tell us what that is?