USA’s ambitious new Jersualem-based drama “Dig” comes from the minds of Gideon Raff (“Homeland”) and Tim Kring (“Heroes”), and those two pedigrees have come together to bring exactly the kind of show you would expect. There appear to be some people who have abilities beyond the normal, and the whole thing has a strong connection to the Middle East. Throw in a dash of religious conspiracy and “Dig” is certainly a show that’s juggling big ideas.
The problem is that it is at least so far missing the key ingredient that made both “Heroes” and “Homeland” so utterly compelling in their first seasons. The Showtime drama captured America’s imagination thanks to the characters of Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody, as performed by Emmy winners
After the premiere of “Dig,” it’s hard to latch onto any of these characters, including lead Jason Isaacs as FBI Agent Peter Connelly. In fact, the most compelling characters so far are Alison Sudol’s Emma Wilson — a scarlet-haired archaeology student — and Zen McGrath’s young Joshua.
Joshua’s story is only tangentially connected to Connelly’s investigation into the surprise murder that sets the story in motion during the premiere. And yet, I found myself more fascinated and glued to the screen every time this mysterious little boy in a sanitized and over-sized facility was featured. The people behind the place have big plans for him, and a late-episode twist reveals there’s much more going on here than at first appears.
It’s exciting and intriguing, but not enough to sustain a series. I wish I felt half as drawn to the main story, which is trying desperately to capture the action and excitement of both “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Da Vinci Code.” There’s plenty of action, but it comes across as muddled and at least so far is failing to serve the intrigue.
The clash between Connelly and local police detective Golan Cohen (portrayed by Ori Pfeffer) fails on almost every count, because it’s simply too obvious. Their male egos lead to conflict, which they briefly put aside to engage in a rooftop chase through the streets of Jersualem. That they will reluctantly come together to solve the larger mystery is almost painfully obvious.
Anne Heche is absolutely wasted so far as Connelly’s boss/lover Lynn Monahan, while earning second billing in the show’s cast. So far she’s served as a soft body to keep him warm at night, and the wet blanket at work to offer exposition to the viewers about Connelly’s late daughter and her similarities to the red-haired Emma Wilson, and to try and stop Connelly from getting too involved in the case.
She’s a pretty classic example of a female character existing only as a satellite of the male lead, with her entire role in the pilot to serve his development. Heche deserves better, and so do the viewers. Perhaps that’s why Sudol’s Emma Wilson proved such a compelling character. In a sea of males, she is a standout woman who refuses to be defined by any of them.
That is, until the writers forced her into the role of plot device to push the male drama forward. Hopefully, there’s an unexpected twist down the road to improve that situation.
“Dig” is being touted as a 10-episode event series, and while it has its moments, it feels like it’s trying to be too many things at once and not being quite enough of any of them to be compelling. It has some fun action sequences, but then gets bogged down with attempts at religious intrigue and political tensions and mysterious kids with mysterious abilities overseen by a shadowy organization with unknown goals and potentially global implications.
And the sparse individuals who actually light up the screen when they’re on it are yet too small a part of the overall narrative. It’s a shame, because Isaacs is an otherwise riveting performer, as seen by his take on Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” films, and even his take as a man trapped in two worlds on NBC’s short-lived “Awake.”
Here, he’s largely overwhelmed and confused by what’s going on around him, while no less driven to pursue the murder that becomes the centerpiece of the narrative, even as Heche’s character reminds him that it hits too close to home for him.
There are moments of intrigue, like the connection Emma shares with Peter’s past. With hints of elements beyond our realm of understanding — influences of the things Kring explored with “Heroes” — there are yet layers to be peeled back with “Dig.”
It seems that Kring and Raff are attempting a delicate juggling act of seemingly disparate sub-genres to create “Dig.” My concern is that after a 90-minute premiere, I don’t feel like I spent enough time on any of them to really be drawn in. Even worse, after spending an hour and a half with these characters, I still couldn’t really say that much about any of them.
They are thus far just archetypes of certain types of characters we’ve seen a thousand times before. The driven government agent, the detached boss/lover, the mysteriously ethereal young girl, the innocent child, the distrustful local law enforcement agent, the cold-hearted corporate boss, the sympathetic underling. Push the boundaries and give us something fresh.
Maybe they should have considered starting with just one or two of their big ideas and easing viewers into the rest of them, as “Lost” did. Instead, open the story by allowing us inside these characters a bit more so we care when crazy things start happening to them. If we aren’t invested in the characters, we’re not going to be drawn in when they’re in trouble.
“Dig” premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on USA.