Critical Consensus: ABC's The Whispers Is Distinctly Spielbergian, Addictive Summer Fun
ABC's The Whispers has retooled significantly since its unaired pilot received a lukewarm reception last year. First, the producers changed the name from The Visitors, which was both disappointingly generic and far too similar to the 2009 alien invasion series V. Second, the pilot has been reworked so it burns through its mysteries much more slowly and thoughtfully, with mostly fantastic results. According to the first reviews, the initial episodes are full of polished, Spielbergian fun, and although there are a few kinks here and there, the show demonstrates a great deal of potential.
The official synopsis for the series, which is executive produced by Steven Spielberg and based on Ray Bradbury's short story Zero Hour, reads: "An unseen force is manipulating society's most innocent-our children-to act in favor of its cause. As the kids unwittingly help this unknown enemy, the clock counts down in this suspenseful race to save humanity." The fact that it's classified as a sci-fi series and based on a Bradbury story should give some insight into what the nature of the "unseen force" is, but we'll stop there.
From the first three episodes made available for review, critics tend to agree that the show is creepy, addictive, and reminiscent of Spielberg's classic works in the best way possible:
Distill many of the themes found in Steven Spielberg movies - a fascination with a world beyond ours, a childlike wonder and family relations - minus the filmmaker's artistic touches, and you get something like "The Whispers"... "The Whispers" pretty much achieves what it's intended to be - lightweight summer entertainment. - Los Angeles Daily News
The series, created by Soo Hugh and premiering Monday, has all the right pieces working together to make a decent show. It becomes slightly over-plotted by the third episode, but nothing that significantly diminishes its power to hold our interest. - San Francisco Chronicle
An X-Files-ish sci-fi procedural carefully calibrated to twist your mind... The Whispers is just plain nuts. And, oh so much fun. True, the series is marred by some very lazy writing: Major plot twists occur through the lamest manufactured events... Despite it all, this is seriously addictive stuff. Where is The Whispers leading us? I wager we'll all be glued to our TVs trying to figure that out. - Philly.com
Critics also agree that the show is well-acted, with a pedigreed cast that includes American Horror Story's Lily Rabe, Heroes and Gotham's Milo Ventimiglia, Cabin in the Woods's Kristen Connolly, and E.T.'s Dee Wallace. Rabe's leading turn, in particular, is receiving rave reviews so far:
Rabe, a stage actress of considerable acclaim... gets to carry a show for the first time with "The Whispers." She's more than equal to the challenge. Claire is complicated and flawed, not quite a Carrie Mathison but a modern woman challenged by trying to maintain her personal life with the kind of sense of order and priority she brings to her job. As written, the character may not be all that inspired, but Rabe gives her dimension. - San Francisco Chronicle
Rabe has had juicy roles on American Horror Story... but it's nice to see her as a more grounded character... She might not be dealing in witchcraft or channeling Satan, but Rabe's performance as an everywoman is impressive and satisfying. - Popsugar
The primary detraction from the show thus far, it seems, is a high level of contrivance. Several reviewers noted that the audience gets one step ahead of the characters by the end of the third episode:
Occasionally, it seems a little conveniently off. There are two government investigations going on that too often trip over each other, and they seem slow to pick up leads. That could be frustrating for viewers to be ahead of the game. - Los Angeles Daily News
"The Whispers" had the potential to be an intriguing, supernatural soap, but by episode two, it proves itself to be one of those series where the audience is, frustratingly, frequently one step ahead of the characters. That's not fun; it's boring, which is the last thing a supernatural thriller should be. - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Whispers premieres on Monday at 10 pm on ABC.