Past Life -- TV Review

"Past Life"
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Reincarnation, once largely the province of Hindus and Shirley MacLaine, collides with the world of crime procedurals in "Past Life." In this Fox series from David Hudgins, murders are solved through the recollection of memory fragments of a past that occurred before birth. (I had to re-read that, too.)

Far-fetched? Very. So much so that Hudgins and the writers need to include at least one scene in each episode to allay most viewers' obvious doubts, and they do.

Nonetheless, one shouldn't take "Past Life" lightly merely because it is based on the premise of reincarnation. Not when there are so many other reasons to take it lightly.

Chief among these is that, based on the pilot and the first episode, this series ranks among the most contrived TV shows ever. Mysteries are set up and sustained based solely on the flashbacks of the guest character each week -- someone who conveniently remembers just enough to provide obscure clues but never enough to simply solve the case outright.

The job of sifting through the clues belongs to Dr. Kate McGinn (Kelli Giddish), a staff member of an institute/hospital that helps patients remember factoids from a past life. And not just any past life, mind you, but the past life immediately preceding their current life, the past life connected to that week's mystery. Vishnu help us if the client recalls yet another crime from a previous existence and the memories became intertwined.

Each week, a scared and scarred person agrees to let McGinn get to the bottom of these troubling memories -- all of which surface in scratchy, grainy, often unfocused video. She is assisted by Price Whatley (Nicholas Bishop), a former NYPD detective whose life hit a downward spiral after the recent death of his wife. And, yes, Whatley is a skeptic. Need you ask?

They are joined by Dr. Malachi Talmadge (Richard Schiff), the no-nonsense head of the institute, and Dr. Rishi Karna (Ravi Patel), whose function after two episodes remains as foggy as the memories they treat.

In the premiere, teenage Noah is troubled by visions in which, he says, "I saw the man who killed me." He didn't get an ID or a license number, so it takes the entire show to track down his previous life's killer from a month before he started his current life.

And even that might not have been possible if McGinn and Whatley hadn't entered Noah's bedroom at precisely the moment a neighbor friend revealed the boy's location on Noah's computer monitor. (Thankfully, no one believes in screensavers.)

There is some undeniable chemistry between McGinn and Whatley, but it isn't enough to rescue "Past Life." Not in this life.

Following tonight's "special preview" of the pilot episode, the series moves to its regular time period at 9 p.m. Thursdays.

Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9 (Fox)
Production: Hudgins Prods. and Lou Pitt Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television
Cast: Kelli Giddish, Nicholas Bishop, Richard Schiff, Ravi Patel
Executive producers: David Hudgins, Lou Pitt
Producer: Tom Luse
Co-producer: Scott Swanson
Director: Deran Sarafian
Teleplay/creator: David Hudgins
Based on the novel "The Reincarnationist" by: M.J. Rose
Director of photography: Dermott Downs
Production designer: Jonathan A. Carlson
Editor: John Murray
Music: Jon Ehrlich, Jason Derlatka
Set decorator: John Millard
Casting: Cami Patton, Jennifer Lare
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