One of the most frustrating things is when a good TV show is taken off the air before its time. What’s even more frustrating is when a channel buys the rights to a phenomenal pilot and then decides not to go forward and make the clearly excellent show that would have followed. This is the case with this very excellent pilot that was put on Netflix as a stand alone movie. And I say, it’s a criminal waste of a good plot and cast.
Lets take a look at Parallels.
Our story begins with a young boxer named Ronan coming home to find a mysterious note for him and his sister Beatrix, telling him and his sister to come to a building at a specific time. They bring along their neighbor Harold, only to find the building is a dilapidated, graffiti covered empty building. Minutes later when they walk out the door, they enter a different world, though they recognize some of the same people. A mysterious woman named Polly explains that the building they entered exists in a near infinite amount of parallel Earths, each one different in some way. As the four of them traverse through two very different worlds, trying to figure out what is happening and how, if at all, they can go home.
The reason why this movie/pilot is so good and yet so frustrating is that its plot is ingenious. Unlike a time travel show, there is no turning back or fixing mistakes, there is only moving forward in a weird shuffle of different worlds. The pilot sets up lots of gadgets and rules clearly meant to set up series long necessities and relationships meant to play out along a season. It also ends with the biggest, most exciting cliffhanger concerning Polly, played by the amazing Constance Wu. However, Fox decided to instead just post the pilot online and see if it could stand alone as its own movie. The answer is, yes, it can but the plot is too good for it to have to.
The cast is also spot on. Constance Wu, as previously mentioned, stands out as the savvy time traveler Polly, who has more to her than she seems (in a very big way). Mark Hapka plays Ronan, the boxer who is trying hard not to fall apart after the death of his mother, in the most heartbreaking and charming way you could play a traumatized self-destructive smartass. His sister Beatrix is played by Jessica Rothe who looks weirdly like Blake Lively, but is not just the typical little sister character; rather than being a helpless doe eyed tag along, Beatrix is self-possessed and determined…as well as being doe eyed. I typically hate comic relief characters in what end up being serious sci-fi shows, but Eric Jungmann is one of the exceptions by never hamming it up too much or acting too inappropriate for situations. Again, such a shame to waste such good casting on a pilot that will never be realized.
In terms of visuals, you can tell a lot of love and money went into the complex backgrounds. It also helps that the central background is an empty building, making it easy and cheap to shoot in by comparison. The two other worlds we see are excellently crafted, one being a post-nuclear dystopia and the other a futuristic wonderland, each with a distinct look and feel. There’s good cinematography work done, well enough that I was convinced that this was, for all intents and purposes, an indie movie, even if the pacing was a bit off.
Again, the biggest draw to this pilot/film is the concepts behind the plot. After all, we’re so used to seeing space ships running around different places. Instead, here we have a stationary building that has worlds move around it, where the building stays the same but shifts the world around it every 36 hours. If you are outside when the building shifts, there’s no going back, you’re stuck for a very long time. Questions arise: who built this, and why? How does the building work and what resides on its top, inaccessible floors? How does the building sustaining itself and getting more power? How are new worlds chosen? It’s certainly a better mystery than LOST ever had, that’s for sure.
In all honesty, if Parallels never gets made into a TV show or gets a sequel, the sci-fi genre will be poorer for it. This pilot shows promise in abundance, and one can only hope that Constance Wu’s newfound popularity will revive interest in this project. Until then, I’ll be building my own theories about what the initial hints could all mean in terms of a larger universe and cursing the execs who shot this show down.
– Great casting/acting.
– Excellent concept and plot.
– Good cinematography.
– Killer cliffhanger.
– As a movie, it has pacing issues.