Five episodes in, and Fox’s vampire drama The Passage is actually…good? The hell you say!
While good is a relative term of course, the show isn’t a critical darling or possible Emmy winner. What it does do is immerse as best it can.
In case you’re not familiar, The Passage is based on the trilogy of books by author Justin Cronin, who has a producer’s credit for the series. In both the show and the novels, the government recruits death-row inmates to come to Colorado for a mysterious experiment. The bonus is that said participants are out of jail. The bust is that they are now injected with vampire blood.
The scientists, though, are now of the belief that what they need is a young person for these blood experiments to work, i.e. not turn people into blood suckers. So they have Agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) bring in an orphan girl (Saniyya Sidney) to give it a try. And hilarity ensues! (Not really.)
The anomaly of the show is that it’s on Fox, a broadcast network. Broadcast networks aren’t really known for doing genre shows well: think Game of Thrones (fantasy), The Walking Dead (horror/zombie), or The Sopranos (mobster), all of which are not on broadcast television. Broadcast normally does sitcoms well (especially The Good Place) and family dramas (I’m no fan, but critics lauded Parenthood and This is Us, especially in their beginnings). When I found out that The Passage was going to be on Fox, I didn’t expect much. With its vampire violence and time shifts, it seemed like a fit for Showtime or HBO, not Fox Television.
But The Passage is actually good and even a bit scary at times. While it isn’t great (yet?), it is good enough to watch. (It reminds me a bit of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., over on ABC, in the way that they are on broadcast, are genre shows, and do the best with what they have).
First of all, so much hinges on the child actor who plays Amy, a young girl infected with a vampire virus early in the series. The casting director got a dream come true with Saniyya Sidney: she doesn’t annoy or overact, as so many child actors are wont to do.
The show also moves at a pace, not lingering too long on any one thing before pushing the narrative forward. That’s good to know. The book on which the show is based is quite the tome and neither of the two sequels are slim. They’ve got plenty of source material. All of the action and drama is wrapped nicely in its hour, something that can seem quaint in the age of Netflix, HBO, and AMC all unnecessarily pushing their shows over the sixty-minute mark.
It’s not perfect, though. The acting can be stilted at times. Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Agent Wolgast, is just that classic network actor. He does a fine job, but there’s a certain air of artifice over many of scenes. He does do well with the chemistry in his scenes with Saniyya Sidney. Those usually ring without any false notes. And the dialogue can vary in depth and quality, too, which is no fault of Gosselaar’s. The fact that the writing still does some minor hand-holding feels like a leftover element of the network days of the 80s.
And much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Passage can be stymied by its sets — the laboratory scenes come off as especially cheap and synthetic. This bleeds into the the last doubt I have for the show: the source material. While vast, the book does some serious time jumping that this version of the show doesn’t look like it could afford even if it is willing to shake viewers in such a jolting manner.
With all that said, what The Passage does have some serious entertainment value going for it. I even find myself — dare I even say it — looking forward to it on a weekly basis. I’m willing to drink up a little more. (Ugh. Horrible pun, I know.)
Let me know what you think if you’ve watched it.