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Thursday, March 12, 2015

DIG Deeper

Article originally written for Seat42F.

USA’s DIG has an intriguing premise, the kind we need on television. Created by Gideon Raff (who created the show Homeland was based on) and Tim Kring (Heroes, Touch), DIG is a globe-spanning mystery set mainly in history-teeming Jerusalem and full of biblical prophecy. Our hero has to investigate a murder and a conspiracy despite overwhelming odds against him, while forces are rising in other parts of the world that will soon converge in Israel. It’s a really great concept for a TV show.

Unfortunately, DIG is not as well-executed as it should be. The story plays out in a predictable manner with some really trite dialogue, and an absolutely stupid use of a grainy surveillance photo. There are good things of note in the pilot, but the pacing makes much of the hour boring, and there’s real a lack of depth in several of the lead characters.

It’s known that Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter films, Awake) is a good actor, and I’m sure he can convincingly carry a show. Just not this one. His character, Peter Connelly, sleeps with a very young woman, Emma Wilson (Alison Sudol, Transparent), who reminds him of his dead daughter, which is icky. He is married, by the way, and also already sleeping with his boss, Lynn Monahan (Anne Heche, Hung, Men in Trees), making him doubly repulsive. He’s bad at his job, pissing off the local cop he works with, Golan Cohen (Ori Pfeffer, World War Z), and inserting himself where he isn’t needed or wanted. He’s unlikeable, without even a bit of charm that normally makes such jerks tolerable.

While Peter is the main protagonist, thankfully there are others. There’s a side story about a red calf, and even better, a secret compound in a New Mexico desert that is keeping an orphan boy (Zen McGrath) hostage. These add actual intrigue to the plot, and provide a reason to keep watching, to see how they may tie into the story and if the mythology of the series will be worth committing to.

I particularly enjoy the compound scenes in the pilot. The place is run by David Costabile’s (Suits, Breaking Bad) Ted Billingham. Costabile is a reliable character actor, and his creepy cult leader is interesting. He is served by evil Faye (Angela Bettis, May), who matches his demeanor. Even better is Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under, Torchwood: Miracle Day) as his truly demented follower, Debbie, who is far too lax with their hostage, probably my favorite performance of the piece. Together, these three are far more compelling than anything going on with Peter, and so I kept finding myself eagerly anticipating their scenes.

I think the fundamental flaw with DIG is that it’s a Tim Kring show. Kring’s Heroes was a series that started out with an excellent premise and cool characters, then lost steam as he didn’t know what to do with them to keep them going. After the failed Daybreak, he then did Touch, which also involved global conspiracies. Again, Touch was a neat series that hooked the viewer, especially the pilot, which gripped a certain type of audience, myself included, in just the right way. But like Heroes, Touch suffered from a lack of direction and vision, and faltered as it wore on.

DIG feels very much like Touch, and that worries me. While there are some definite differences, including a darker tone, the lack of cohesion in the pilot itself makes me think this will go the way of Kring’s other efforts. Creating a poor core arc certainly doesn’t help, but this definitely feels like a one-and-done season because it squanders its ambitions from the start.

Television deserves a show like DIG, but not DIG itself, which falls short of the heights it should be reaching.

DIG airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

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