‘Stitch­ers’ un­rav­els fast

Strong cast can’t res­cue se­ries, says Mary McNa­mara.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MARY McNA­MARA TELE­VI­SION CRITIC mary.mcna­mara@la­times.com

“Fringe” meets “iZom­bie” for a mean­ing­less sum­mer hookup. Re­sult: “Stitch­ers,” an ABC Fam­ily se­ries so tonally am­biva­lent — satire or sin­cere? — that it winds up play­ing more as an au­di­tion tape for its var­i­ous stars than an ac­tual show.

The pi­lot, pre­mier­ing Tues­day, opens mu­sic-video hot with Tay­lor Swift in a cat suit watch­ing a cou­ple in bed and gen­er­ally hav­ing what ap­pears to be a dream-state ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ex­cept it’s nei­ther Tay­lor Swift nor a dream. Meet Kirsten (Emma Ishta), a thin, blond CalTech grad stu­dent and walk­ing cliché. Young, bril­liant and beau­ti­ful, she pos­sesses both a Dark Past and a psy­cho-so­cial dis­or­der that ren­ders her in­ca­pable of say­ing any­thing that isn’t su­per-rude.

Ac­cord­ing to mod­ern canon, this makes her a per­fect can­di­date for crime­solv­ing. (See also “El­e­men­tary,” “The Black­list,” “Scor­pion” and, you know, Tele­vi­sion In Gen­eral.) Af­ter a dust-up with her equally bril­liant but rel­a­tively nor­mal room­mate Camille (Al­li­son Scagliotti), Kirsten is re­cruited by a gov­ern­ment agency so su­per-dou­ble-duper covert it op­er­ates in a miles-deep sub-base­ment of L.A.’s Chi­na­town. (Pre­sum- ably, it’s been retro­fit­ted.)

There, the no-non­sense Maggie (Salli Richard­son-Whit­field) over­sees an al­ter­nate-uni­verse cast of “The Big Bang The­ory” as they at­tempt to pre­vent and/or solve crimes by en­ter­ing the cool­ing con­scious­ness of the newly dead. As adorable brainiac, Cameron (Kyle Har­ris) in­forms Kirsten in tommy-gun cadence that the brain is just a ma­chine and the in­for­ma­tion is all still there for a cer­tain amount of time — blah, blah, blah — this par­tic­u­lar bit of sci­en­tific sketch­i­ness is now so boil­er­plate that cre­ator Jef­frey Alan Schechter just skids right through it.

For our view­ing plea­sure, how­ever, his ver­sion of psy­cho­log­i­cal necrophilia in­volves Kirsten don­ning a black body suit — “we be­gan with nude but there was push-back,” says adorable com­puter whiz Li­nus (Ritesh Ra­jan) — and get­ting into a big tank of wa­ter. (Why is a big tank of wa­ter al­ways in­volved?)

There she is con­nected, pos­si­bly via ether ca­ble, to a dead per­son, al­low­ing her to wan­der around in his or her mem­o­ries.

It’s all com­pletely ridicu­lous and de­riv­a­tive, which Schechter is quick to ac­knowl­edge. In­deed, the sec­ond-best thing about “Stitch­ers” is its game if not quite suc­cess­ful at­tempt to strad­dle sci-fi and sci-fi satire. With her ro­botic mien, Ishta’s Kirsten is so shut down it of­ten reads as a joke, while Cameron froths with Spock­ian snob­bery and many geek ref­er­ences.

The first-best thing about the show is its cast, who all show prom­ise far be­yond the lim­its of their roles. Scagliotti es­pe­cially needs to be in a show that’s go­ing to last more than a sum­mer sea­son, which “Stitch­ers” prob­a­bly will not.

There is most cer­tainly a satire to be made of our cur­rent ob­ses­sions with bril­liant but so­cially stunted he­roes and dig­i­tally amped de­tec­tion — is there noth­ing we can’t do with an iPad? — but “Stitch­ers” takes it­self too se­ri­ously for that. Kirsten is on a quest to solve crimes, find her fa­ther and be­come more hu­man.

That’s a show we’ve all seen be­fore in ver­sions bet­ter than this.

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