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Miracles - The Series (A TV on DVD Review)


The Complete Series (2003) (Shout! Factory-2005)

The X-Files is responsible for some major changes in television. The moody, morose visuals and the supernatural scares of the show have set a template for many series that came in its wake. Thanks to it, the audience can see things that would have been impossible previously. (In the pilot of Miracles, there is a scene in which the main character uses a syringe on a corpse's eyeball. For better or worse, that is something you could have never seen on TV in the old days.)

Like The X-Files, Miracles takes itself very seriously. Perhaps too seriously, there is hardly a light or jovial moment in the thirteen episodes of the series. However, despite its darkness, the series really is a fascinating examination of the nature of faith and the supernatural. At least a couple of episodes ("The Friendly Skies" and "Little Miss Lost") rank right up amongst the spookiest hours of television I've ever seen.

Yet, the show never lasted long enough to even create a ripple in the public consciousness. The series ran on ABC for only six episodes before getting cancelled -- and those episodes were often at odd timeslots because the series had the bad fortune to start at about the same time as the Iraq War. Seven additional filmed episodes were never aired at all. ABC was not sure what to do with the series, the idea of a dark look at the human soul didn't play well with the background of shock and awe. Even the fans who were seduced by the gothic charms of the series had no idea when it would air again.

Series creator Richard Hatem succinctly stated the inspiration for the theme of the series in the commentary track for the pilot episode. "For a while, I really didn't believe in anything, I didn't think there was anything else out there," he said. "Now I believe that there is something out there, I'm just not sure if it is good."

Miracles starred Skeet Ulrich (of Scream) as Paul Callan, a former seminary student who works for the Catholic Church. He is sent all around the world to investigate mysterious phenomena and determine if it is divine. He doesn't really necessarily look the role -- most people expect an older, more imposing figure. "You can't go in there," a guard stops him near a graveyard. "They got some guy supposed to check the site for miracles or something like that."

"Pleased to meet you," Callan says, shaking his hand, "I'm the guy."

Paul is having a crisis of faith. He is tiring of going into towns where people believe that they have been touched by the divine and then determining that there was a simple explanation to the phenomenon after all. "They look gut-punched every time," he tells his mentor, Poppi (Hector Elizondo.) "I feel like a doctor who never cures anyone. I just show up, deliver the bad news and move on."

"What's the point of faith if it is never tested?" Poppi asks.

"I'm tired of being the one doing the testing. In the past six months I've seen weeping statues, housewives with stigmata, glowing crosses and every time there is a mundane explanation. The one thing I haven't seen is the true spirit of God. I'm beginning to think that maybe we're on our own down here."

Paul decides to take a sabbatical from his job. His life changes when he is drawn to Tommy (Jacob Smith), a boy who is dying of a rare disease and yet appears to have the power to heal others. It is not a selfless gift -- every time the boy saves someone it makes him weaker -- and yet the boy never hesitates to give his gift to others. Paul finds it hard to believe at first, however he learns firsthand when Paul is nearly killed in a car crash with a train and Tommy gives his own life to save Paul's. While Paul is lying in the smashed vehicle, he sees the words "God is now here" spelled out in blood on the smashed windshield. He finally has found what he is looking for -- an actual miracle -- and yet the hierarchy will not acknowledge it. Paul is so angered that he leaves the Church.

"I think miracles are like falling in love," says a woman whose blindness was healed by Tommy. "You never believe it can happen until it happens to you."

The story of Tommy will pop up periodically over the other episodes -- it isn't the full focus of the show, but it is always in the background and actively drives three or four of the additional episodes.

Paul is offered a similar job by Alva Keel (Angus MacFadyen), a similarly fallen Catholic who runs a group called Sodalitas Quaerito, which is Latin for "the Brotherhood in Search of the Truth." In the pilot episode, there is the vague hint that Keel may be more than just fallen, he may have gone to the other side, however that possibility, if it was ever there, is snapped shut quickly. Keel tells Paul that he is one of about a half-dozen people who have seen the message in blood, however most of them had read it not as "God is now here," but as "God is nowhere."

Also working for Sodalitas Quaerito is Evelyn Santos (Marisa Ramirez), a former police officer and single mother who may not have the biblical knowledge of her co-horts but understands the ins and outs of investigative procedure more. As the series goes on, her storylines get smaller and smaller, to the point that in many episodes she appears in only one or two scenes.

The more interesting shows are not necessarily on the religious theme though -- the two best stand alone as episodes. "The Friendly Skies" is actually more like an episode of The Twilight Zone than the X-Files. In it, an airplane completely disappears while landing for sixty-four seconds and then mysteriously reappears. After it lands, all the people on board are temporarily blessed with different miraculous transformations -- a little girl knows the entirety of her unhappy future, a steward can suddenly speak fluently in the lost tongue of Aramaic, a paraplegic woman regains all of her facilities and is not able to share it with her husband and a woman who fears being killed in a plane crash is literally incinerated.

"Little Miss Lost" is more of a traditional ghost story. Over decades, the body of an unidentified little girl is found at the scene of many tragedies. They figure out that she is a ghost who is trying to find peace and does not recognize that she is bringing death with her into the living world. Paul becomes the first person to see her before a calamity. Somehow the girl is trying to contact Paul to get him some information, so the group must investigate who she could be and try to figure out what will bring her soul peace.

In later (unaired) episodes, the producers seem willing to disregard the specifics of the world they have so painstakingly put together when it was convenient as a plot point. The most egregious of these fudges comes in "Mother's Daughter," one of the episodes which never aired, but was obviously meant to be a centerpiece episode of the series -- a couple of shots were used in the opening titles. It was clearly stated in the pilot episode that Paul was an orphan. ("You don't have parents?" Tommy asked him and Paul replied "Everyone's got parents. I just never knew mine.") However, only nine episodes later, suddenly the history has been changed and Paul witnessed his mother's death at five. Why? No reason other than to make him relate more to the girl he is investigating. However, if his life is so chameleonic that it changes with every case he takes on, how are we supposed to know what to believe?

The series ends as definitively as is possible for a show that was cancelled with only half a season's episodes filmed. Not all of the mysteries are solved, but enough are to keep the audience entertained. The show definitely deserved better than its short-lived run, and with this DVD the series can finally get its due.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: May 1, 2005.

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