Take the talking dead people from "The Sixth Sense," some otherworldly visuals from "The Matrix" and the team mutant concept from "The X-Men," and you get "The Others," a pastiche of supernatural doublespeak that needs to worry less about aura and more about story and character.
Tonight's series debut introduces us to reluctant empath Marian Kitt (Julianne Nicholson), a college student who, as a child, managed to convince herself that all those odd dreams and weird feelings she kept having were just due to an overactive imagination. Of course they were much more than that, and there's nothing like finding yourself in a dorm room with a deadly history to drive that point home.
Marian's mistake is telling her roommate about the dreams. Other weirdness follows, and soon the roommate is spreading the word; she even tape-records Marian mumbling "My killer is dead" over and over in her sleep. Enter Professor Miles Ballard (John Billingsley), a nerdy, rather bumbling type who insists that Marian needs to start hanging out with similarly gifted "Others" who meet regularly in a sort-of paranormal support group.
Marian isn't quite buying it, but she stops by anyway and meets an eclectic cast of characters: handsome medical intern Mark Gabriel (Gabriel Macht), mentally unstable Warren Day (Kevin J. O'Connor), New-Agey Satori (Melissa Crider), calculatedly cranky Albert Taylor (John Aylward) and gentle old Elmer Greentree (Bill Cobbs).
Together, this team of the psychically enhanced is dedicated not only to supporting each other, but also to helping live people deal with unwelcome psychic phenomena and dead people get their message across to the living.
Marian is reluctant to sign on at first. But the group -- especially Elmer, one of the original "Others" from the 1920s -- is convinced she's one of them.
There's a lot of paranormal babble spread about in "The Others," but not much menace. Audiences have become so accustomed to the idea of ghosts that just putting someone with pale skin onscreen doesn't scare us anymore. There's also a lot of awkward clue-dropping by the dead people -- instead of simply whispering a name in her ear, for instance, the spirit attached to Marian makes her fill a sheet of notebook paper with the letters M and E. Sure, it looks spooky, but what does it mean?
In fact, much of "The Others" looks really good, especially a beyond-death encounter, filmed underwater, between a diaphanous-gowned Marian and a spirit with an urgent message. And the cast proves game, especially TV veteran Cobbs and Nicholson, who never quite acts of this world. Aylward, however, best known as the officious Dr. Anspaugh in "ER," is too good an actor to have to suffer the most tired of film cliches, the handicapped person with a foul mouth.
If "The Others" is going to catch on with viewers, it will have to either develop its characters and make them more memorable (Cobbs' Elmer will likely become a fan favorite, but his is not the sort of character to build a show around) or move beyond the type of conventional plots typified by tonight's debut. In today's world of instant-gratification TV, here's betting it won't get the chance.
Where: WBAL, Channel 11
When: 10-11 tonight
In brief: Nothing we haven't seen before