There are fewer “Lost”-alikes nowadays than there used to be: Given how frequently hour-long puzzle-box shows seeking to draft off of the ABC smash’s success were met with utter indifference, the networks, give or take an occasional attempt like NBC’s “Manifest” (really more of a procedural than puzzle-box show, despite the mystery at its center) moved on to attempting to copy the “This Is Us” formula. So it’s actually a bit charming to see “Emergence,” a new network show that puts forward a big supernatural-adjacent mystery expanding outward into potential conspiracy or mysticism. It’s the sort of show that they don’t much make anymore.
Here, Allison Tolman plays a small-town police chief who finds a young girl at the site of a plane accident; this young woman (Alexa Swinton) seems to have no recollection of who she is or how she got there. Tolman’s Jo Evans takes the young girl into her home but quickly finds herself pursued by people who want her back, badly enough to lie and to do worse than that. And the question of what powers this girl possesses — whether she miraculously survived an accident or, more impressively and concerningly, somehow caused it — haunt Jo’s mind, and the series.
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Tolman brings to the role the warmth and shrewdness she did to a similar part in FX’s “Fargo”; it’s a pleasure simply to watch her think through the case, and a pleasure granted often given how much the case becomes Jo’s whole life. By integrating the young girl, renamed “Piper” into her home, Jo allows her family (including ex-husband Donald Faison and daughter Ashley Aufderheide) to become ensnared in a case with dangerous implications.
It’s hard to know if the audience will be there for “Emergence,” given how frequently attempts at crafting supernatural hits have fallen short in the recent past; what’s more, supernatural series that run without commercials and with more elaborate action are not hard to find on cable and streaming. But it deserves a shot, at least on the basis of its first hour. With real tension, uncommon curiosity, and a knockout, chilling final shot, it’s a network pilot whose strength on its own merits is compounded by how unlike the rest of network TV right now it seems.
“Emergence.” ABC. Sept. 24. One episode screened for review.
Cast: Allison Tolman, Alexa Swinton, Owain Yeoman, Ashley Aufderheide, Robert Bailey Jr., Zabryna Guevara, Donald Faison, Clancy Brown.
Executive Producers: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, Paul McGuigan.