Originally posted Friday, January 11, 2019 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The vampire genre remains as durable as the coffins they sleep in.
Fox has decided to take a bite into this world with “The Passage,” which is shot in metro Atlanta and features an ensemble cast that includes Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Inspired by a sci-fi book series by Justin Cronin, the series debuts Monday night at 9 p.m. after another Atlanta-produced show “The Resident.”
The set up is intriguing, if familiar to anybody who's into apocalyptic scenarios. A vaccine is being tested at a secret lab that could make humans immune to disease but has some rather nasty side effects: it eventually turns them into vampire-like, blood-thirsty creatures.
With a worldwide avian flu outbreak spreading, the doctors at Project Noah are desperate to perfect the vaccine and realize younger people have a better shot at fighting off the side effects. They target a sharp and spunky 10-year-old orphan Amy (Saniyya Sidney) who has no idea what is about to happen.
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Gosselaar’s character, federal agent Brad Wolgast is tasked to pick her up and bring her to the lab, but when he finds out why, he decides to go on the run instead. Their familial bonding is the heart of the show.
And while the subjects with the virus appear catatonic and are kept in jail cells, they become far more powerful than meets the eye - or the brain. It doesn't take long to figure out that this experiment is about to go awry and the fate of humanity is at stake.
Two key figures in the cells are Dr. Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane of “Sons of Anarchy” fame) and Shauna Babcock (Brianne Howey from ”Scream Queens”). Fanning is patient zero, the first person who was accidentally infected and now appears as a ghostly alien, an intricate hand-painted make-up job that takes more than two and a half hours to complete. Babcock is a death-row inmate who recently “turned.”
Both are soon plotting an escape as they interact (sans makeup) in dream-like “mindscapes.”
“We’re getting out of here sooner than I expected,” said McShane, on the set of Project Noah in October at Eagle Rock Studios in Stone Mountain.
Fanning, he said, begins to school Babcock on their burgeoning powers over humans. “There is vampire mythology here,” McShane said. “Humans are imperfect. We’re the perfect race. We’re immortal. We’re doing humanity a favor by having them come to our side.”
‘They see themselves as humans 2.0,” added Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”), who plays a well-meaning, but now conflicted, scientist responsible for the project. (And the show, like “Lost,” will feature plenty of flashbacks.)
Another “viral,” as they’re called by the doctors, is fellow death-row inmate Anthony Carter, played by Atlanta native McKinley Belcher III (”Mercy Street,” “Ozark”). “His life will be transformed in a miraculous and tragic way,” he said.
Gosselaar, looking far younger than his 44 years, said in an interview that this is the first role where he has a daughter and a wife and plays a fatherly role to the girl on the run. (The “Saved by the Bell” star’s recent TV roles have included a veteran baseball player on Fox’s short-lived “Pitch” in 2016-17 and an attorney in TNT’s “Franklin & Bash” from 2011 to 2014.)
“I’m getting to a point in my career where my co stars keep getting younger,” Gosselaar said, with a chuckle.
“When I first met him,” said 12-year-old Sidney, “he said, ‘I played Zack Morris on ‘Saved by the Bell!’ I said, ‘Who? Zac Efron? I don’t know who you’re talking about!”
Playing a federal agent means being an action hero at times, which Gosselaar hasn't gotten much to do before. “I get to geek out,” he said. “I take a beating but it’s worth it!”
To Caroline Chizekie, who plays a primary researcher in the lab, "The Passage" is not “just a genre play. It’s something more than that. There’s a wonderful balance of character, plot and hooks week to week.”
Early reviews have been largely positive.
The Verge: “If the show keeps its strong mix of character-driven narrative and palpable dread, all the bad ideas in its plot could add up to something brilliant.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette: “The character of Brad Wolgast shows Mark-Paul Gosselaar at his best, with the actor displaying incredible range. An Army veteran, Wolgast is cool, efficient and focused, and he’s not one for small talk. But Wolgast has a surprisingly strong sense of empathy.
The Vulture: “The Passage is a solid example of adequate network television. It’s not a great show, at least not based on the initial three episodes that were shared with critics for review, but it’s certainly not a bad one, either. It’s completely understandable that a person might become intrigued by and at least mildly invested in this drama.”
“The Passage,” 9 p.m. Mondays, Fox