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Scott D. Pierce: Fox's 'Past Life' just feels phony

Elizabeth Smart case helped inspire the premiere episode

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 9 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Richard Schiff, left, Kelli Giddish, Nicholas Bishop and Ravi Patel star in the new Fox drama "Past Life."

Jeremy Cowart, Fox,

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PASADENA, Calif. — "Past Life" (Tuesday, 8 p.m., Ch. 13) is sort of a paranormal detective show.

The weird part is that the paranormal stuff is a lot easier to accept than the detective stuff. Because the detective stuff is absolutely ludicrous.

And, mind you, this is a show about reincarnation.

Inspired by the book "The Reincarnationist," by M.J. Rose, "Past Life" operates on the premise that reincarnation is real and we've all led multiple lives. This can be a problem if you suddenly start having terrifying flashbacks of your own murder.

But wait — there's help. Dr. Kate McGinn (Kelli Giddish) is a psychologist who works at New York's Talmadge Center for Behavioral Health, and she's all about helping. She's had her own "past-life regression," so she's a true believer.

"The idea of the show is that by exploring these past-life experiences, these people are going to figure out what happened to them," said executive producer David Hudgins. "And they are going to get some sort of closure."

Kate works with Dr. Malachi Talmadge (Richard Schiff), an expert in cognitive research, and Dr. Rishi Karna (Ravi Patel), an M.D.

(Those two characters are so underdeveloped in the first couple of episodes there's not much more to say about them.)

The new member of the team is somewhat of a skeptic. Price Whatley (Nicholas Bishop) is an ex-NYPD homicide detective who's struggling with guilt over his wife's death.

"Past Life" asks us to accept the whole reincarnation thing. And that's not asking too much, quite frankly. After all, we've accepted aliens in "The X-Files," demons in "Supernatural" and faster-than-light space travel in umpteen outer-space shows.

But the detective part of all this is an insult to the intelligence of viewers. It's just downright, well, stupid.

In Tuesday's premiere, Price makes an utterly unbelievable leap of logic that carries the investigation from a past-life murder victim in Boston to a crime in Washington, D.C. In the second episode, which airs Thursday at 8 p.m. in the show's regular time slot, Price and Kate do a couple of quick Google searches and — voila! — they solve yet another mystery.

It's a consistent theme in the two episodes screened for critics. Leaps of logic that defy logic. And they're unrelated to the reincarnation angle.

It's bad writing. It's lazy storytelling. It's ridiculous.

Sort of like including something as trite and overdone as a character who's an ex-cop tortured by his past.

It's like Hudgins and his team spent all their time researching reincarnation and got all their information about detectives from old, bad TV shows.

What they've missed is that, for the reincarnation angle to be believable — or at least suspension-of-belief believable — the rest of the narrative has to ring true.

And it doesn't.

INSPIRED BY SMART: If Tuesday's premiere of "Past Life" seems a little bit familiar, well, it should.

I don't want to give too much away, but there's a kidnapper who enters a house through a window and snatches young girls.

"David (Hudgins) and I were talking about the Elizabeth Smart case — so this has a little bit of inspiration," said executive producer Lou Pitt. "What we try to do is take a little bit of the reality and go into the world of reincarnation and all of the traumas and dreams that people have and solve them."

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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