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Television Review

‘Believe’ has lots of pedigree, little potential

Johnny Sequoyah (with Jake McLaughlin) plays a girl with special powers.

ERIC LIEBOWITZ/NBC

Johnny Sequoyah (with Jake McLaughlin) plays a girl with special powers.

Serial storytelling on TV — weeks and weeks across years and years — can be magical. But sometimes a network project comes along whose DNA seems closer to that of a miniseries, or even a movie. Alas, the non-cable business model doesn’t speak short-term; the DNA is ignored. And so cool ideas such as “FlashForward,” “The Nine,” and “Heroes” get dragged out far too long and, finally, knocked down for good.

Paranormal series, in particular, suffer from indefinite runs, which brings me to NBC’s latest paranormal drama, “Believe.” Based on the moderately engaging premiere, the show feels like it has only just enough story line and emotional content to deliver a couple of solid hours — maybe a Friday night TV movie. Neither the plot nor the characters are sufficiently evocative to suggest that viewers will want to spend months, much less years, following them.

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Nonetheless, here is “Believe,” Monday night at 10, prepared to spend a lot of time dropping trumped-up mythology clues until cancellation cuts it down midstream. The show has a great pedigree: One of the creators, and the director of the stylishly filmed premiere, is Oscar-winning “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón, and one of the executive producers is J.J. Abrams, he who hath been entrusted with the two sacred sci-fi texts, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars.” But still, “Believe” is a simplistic show that has none of the richness of the best work by those two luminaries.

The idea is that a 10-year-old girl named Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) has supernatural powers, including an ability to read minds, see into the future, and, when necessary, call down hundreds of angry birds to attack a villain pointing a gun. She’s in demand by both a mysterious good guy, Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo), who protects her from exploitation, and a billionaire bad guy, Mr. Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan), who all but snarls as he longs to use Bo’s skills for his own nefarious purposes.

In short, who will get permanent custody of Bo — good daddy or bad daddy?

In an effort to protect Bo, Winter frees an innocent death row inmate named Tate (Jake McLaughlin) and makes him her guardian. Why? The reason is revealed by the end of the premiere, by which time the sweet-hearted Bo and the cranky Tate have developed quite a cutesy rapport. Their banter will pull at your heartstrings — although soon, very soon, it may start pulling at the contents of your stomach.

Sadly, the Abrams imprimatur has been losing value on TV, where, with “Lost,” “Alias,” and “Fringe,” it was once revered. Somewhat generic and underdeveloped series such as “Revolution,” “Undercovers,” and “Alcatraz” have slowly chipped away at his golden reputation — if not his impulse to give his shows one-word titles. “Believe” isn’t going to turn that trend around, as it moves forward despite its limited resources.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.
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