Adults, watch your backs

The kids are doe-eyed but scary in ABC’s fun, new ‘Whis­pers,’ where hu­man­ity’s fate hangs in the bal­ance.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MARY McNA­MARA TELE­VI­SION CRITIC

High-strung parental anx­i­ety is not limited to ob­sess­ing over or­ganic baby food or push­ing teens to pick up that fourth AP class. Kids are scary, as writ­ers in­clud­ing Henry James (“The Turn of the Screw”), Ray Brad­bury (“The Small As­sas­sin”) and Stephen King (“Chil­dren of the Corn”) like to re­mind us. And as sum­mer ap­proaches, they will soon be ev­ery­where, de­mand­ing new amuse­ments, star­ing at their screens, speak­ing in­com­pre­hen­si­ble short­hand and get­ting in our stuff.

All of which ABC’s new su­per­nat­u­ral/sci-fi se­ries ex­ploits to fine sum­mer fun ef­fect.

Full of doe-eyed chil­dren talk­ing to in­vis­i­ble and pos­si­bly sin­is­ter forces in the ceil­ing, the shrub­bery and the night sky, “The Whis­pers” gets as much mileage out of the Steven Spiel­berg hand-stamp (he’s an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer) as pos­si­ble. But are we talk­ing “Poltergeist,” “Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind” or “Trans­form­ers”? Do the kids need sav­ing or do we?

When lit­tle Harper (Abby Ry­der Fortson) starts talk­ing about her new friend Drill, her mom thinks it’s cute, un­til the game Drill is

play­ing with Harper has se­ri­ous con­se­quences. (This is me try­ing to avoid spoil­ers, but can I just say that no mom in her right mind would al­low a tree­house that high?)

En­ter FBI agent Claire Ben­ni­gan (Lily Rabe), who spe­cial­izes in crimes in­volv­ing chil­dren. Though still re­cov­er­ing from the death of her sol­dier hus­band and the re­cent hear­ing loss of her son Henry (Kyle Har­ri­son Bre­itkopf ), Claire re­mem­bers an­other crime in­volv­ing an imag­i­nary friend named Drill, and soon, ol’ Drill is seem­ing not so imag­i­nary af­ter all.

Not that the adults get it. Lights f licker, phone re­cep­tion fails, TV screens turn on for No Good Rea­son, yet all the grown-ups’ fo­cus is on the pres­ence of a req­ui­sitely scruffy and req­ui­sitely tat­tooed man (Milo Ven­timiglia) who also has a con­nec­tion to the crimes. But the kids know, and we know, that Drill is not some scruffy guy.

Dis­cov­er­ing what he is and what he plans drives Claire’s ac­tions and, in­deed, the show, which takes place in and around our na­tion’s cap­i­tal and All That Im­plies.

The kids trend hy­per­cute, and a B-plot in­volv­ing Claire’s re­la­tion­ship with a De­fense Depart­ment op­er­a­tive (Barry Sloane) seems to ex­ist only so she can have ac­cess to the De­fense Depart­ment, but Rabe, a regular on “Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story,” knows how to keep the crazy plates all spin­ning in the right di­rec­tion while she at­tempts to pos­si­bly save the world.

More im­por­tant, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Soo Hugh, who has writ­ten for “Un­der the Dome” and the re­gret­table “Zero Hour,” un­der­stands the eerie oth­er­ness of chil­dren. Are they lis­ten­ing to us or just bid­ing their time be­fore they take over the world?

Kelsey McNeal ABC

KYLE HAR­RI­SON BRE­ITKOPF is among pint-size stars of “The Whis­pers.”

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