‘Believe’ Review: a Good Girl in Need of Darth Vader

Believe - Season Pilot

NBC drama is promising, but needs villains we can really root against

“Believe” is a great villain away from being a show I’d keep watching.

Expectations couldn’t be much higher for the NBC drama, premiering tonight. It comes from Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuaron, the brilliant mind behind “Gravity,” and J.J. Abrams, who co-created “Lost” and now rules both the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” universes.

Also read: J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron on Their Garbage First Drafts

You know why people like “Star Wars” more than “Star Trek”? Because of Darth Vader. He was so ruthless, so composed, that you couldn’t help but root for anyone going up against him. When the prequels made Vader good, the saga lost all momentum.

In lieu of a Vader, “Believe” has Kyle MacLachlan, whom, I’m sorry, I can’t stop loving. He earned a lifetime of goodwill playing Dale Cooper on “Twin Peaks,” and he’s delightful as the sturdily competent mayor of “Portlandia.” I even liked him in “Showgirls.” It’s hard to root against him, and that’s a problem for “Believe.”

The show went through two showrunners before settling on Jonas Pate, which suggests it struggled to find its direction. Hopefully it does in the next few episodes, because it has plenty going for it.

Also read: J.J. Abrams Explains ‘Believe’ Showrunner Changes

It’s about a little girl, Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) who has Christ-like powers that may save the world. After her parents are killed in a horrifying opener — Cuaron directs it as spectacularly as you would expect — she falls into the care of a former death row inmate, Tate (Jake McLaughlin). The mysterious Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo) breaks him of prison. Winter leads a mysterious group dedicated to protecting Bo, but not willing to use guns, because that would make things too easy.

Winter is wise, Bo is adorable and sweet, and Tate has kind of an Owen Wilson thing going. We like them all. And the no-guns thing, foolish as it is, should make them feel even more like a ragtag group of lovable underdogs.

Also read: J.J. Abrams Says ‘Star Wars Episode VII’ Script Done, Confirms Jesse Plemons Talks

But I’m not totally invested, because again: The Empire is run by the charming dude I can’t stop liking. MacLachlan is named Skouras here, and are we sure his plans for Bo are nefarious? We also kind of admire his main apprentice, Moore (Sienna Guillory), for bringing some gender parity to the male-dominated assassin’s game. It’s also kind of endearing that she’s so bad at assassinating.

Sure, she’s involved in killing the parents. But we’ve known the parents would die since the first preview for “Believe” months ago. Moore is one of those TV killers we’re told is relentless and unstoppable, even though she’s always just a step or two behind, even though her main opponents are a dude fresh out of jail and a small child.

And they aren’t even allowed to shoot her.

Okay, granted: Bo is not a normal child, as we see in the show’s second big set piece. But her strength makes us even less invested in her fate. It feels like she’s going to be just fine, whether we watch or not.

So I’m hoping the show can make Skouras a little more scary. Or Moore a little bit faster. Or the Christlike orphan a little more of a martyr.

Is that asking a lot? Yes. But Cuaron and Abrams can handle high expectations.

“Believe” premieres Monday at 10/9c on NBC.