January 15, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Passage”



FOX’s THE PASSAGE does to Justin Cronin’s intricate, elaborate trilogy of postapocalyptic thrillers what Hollywood has traditionally done with literary fiction, flattening the books in the most conventional way possible.  This wasn’t the original plan, or even the second:  Ridley Scott’s production company acquired Cronin’s books with the idea of creating a theatrical film series, and when that found no takers, the original TV pilot featured multiple storylines from Cronin’s epic.  But the network passed on that, and the eventual series, created by Liz Heldens (previously creator of the unsuccessful Camp and Mercy), and with pilot direction credited to both Jacob Ensler and Marcos Siega (the latter for portions of the first pilot retained in the final one), has almost none of Cronin’s ambition, or the unnerving precision of his prose.

Cronin’s work hopscotches among decades and occasionally centuries as it tells the story of telepathic, vampiric beings known as the Virals who ultimately take over the world, and the counter-insurgency against them led by the nearly ageless Amy Bellafonte.  Heldens’ adaptation, as boiled down under the instructions of FOX, is confined to just one timeframe and one storyline of the tale, and it’s the one that most feels like a TV show.  Set in the present day, it’s about renegade government agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), who flouts his orders to bring in young Amy (Samiyya Sidney) to the research institution that wants to use her as a guinea pig in an attempt to adapt the Virals’ eternal life to a cure for an upcoming epidemic.  They go on the run, hunted by the institute’s evil agents.

Even this very basic narrative is drained of the strangeness Cronin brought to it.  In the novels, the relationship between Wolgast and Amy is gradual and guarded, with doses of violence, but here, they form a surrogate dad & daughter duo almost as soon as they meet.  Gosselaar is instantly gruffly protective, in a role less interesting than the one he had in FOX’s cancelled Pitch, while Sidney is cute and plucky in the way of all young Hollywood heroines.  The Virals do a lot of staring, much less mysterious and powerful than they were in the books, and the human villains barely register.  Neither Ensler nor Siega were able to bring any visual personality to the storytelling.

On its own terms, this version of The Passage achieves an acceptable level of mediocrity–you root for Amy and her surrogate dad to evade the bad guys–but there’s nothing to chew on, and certainly no one unfamiliar with the source material would think there had ever been anything special here.  At a time when TV’s ambitions often seem to know no bounds, and just as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos, The Passage feels stuck in a conception of television drama that hasn’t grown since the 1980s.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."