They See Dead People

Stunning visuals and genuinely creepy plot make "The Others" more than just "Sixth Sense: The Series."

By Andy Denhart, Staff Writer

One of the best parts of "The Sixth Sense" was that terrific scene where Haley Joel Osment's character Cole goes to the wake of a little girl who was poisoned to death by her mother. The dead girl's spirit has come to Cole, because she can't rest until her death is at least explained properly. And since Cole can, of course, "see dead people," he's enlisted to help her out. Although he's reluctant and very frightened, with her help he reveals what really happened to her. It is an incredibly satisfying moment in the movie; justice has been done and an unsettled soul has been helped.

That's essentially where NBC's latest addition to its Saturday night "Thrillogy" takes over. "The Others" continues on from there. But it's not a spin-off or copycat "Sixth Sense"; rather, it's a well-constructed mystery/horror drama that was clearly inspired by the hit summer thriller.

The main character here is not a young boy, but a college-age girl, Marian (Julianne Nicholson), who is blessed — or cursed — with that sixth sense of being connected to the other side. Haunting visions of the girl who apparently killed herself in Marian's dorm room lead Marian in the first episode to a group of similar individuals. Each has a gift; there's a doctor who's an empath, a psychic, a seer, and a blind man with a heightened sixth sense. There's also a professor who leads group meetings and documents their work, and Elmer (Bill Cobbs, possibly the best "old" actor on TV today), a medium and the group's patriarch; he's been there, done that, and knows exactly how to help at exactly the right time. There's still a lot of development to be done for most of the characters, but we have a firm enough grasp of who they are to both sympathize with them and question just what is going on in their heads.

Although Marian takes the plunge rather fast, she's still skeptical and reluctant — even through the series' third episode. What she's seeing is both baffling and awesome to her, and we're right alongside her, taking it in with equal parts disbelief and awe.

The awe comes from some outstanding visual effects. On TV, those usually just exist for their own sake — witness nearly every NBC movie-of-the-week for the past few years — but that's thankfully not the case here, where the special effects and cinematography complement the strong cast perfectly. In the first episode, Marion crosses over to the other side, and the images are awesome: she's half floating, half swimming in a combination of slow- and accelerated- motion that appears as an incredible, otherworldly ballet. The third episode, about a man who starts seeing demons after eye surgery, is equally image-rich, although this time it's not a graceful dance in space but highly creepy alien-looking demons.

"The Others" manages to balance its over-the-edge scariness — and it does get rather frightening at times — with the pacing and feel of a soap opera, which helps keep us grounded. That makes it at times seem completely unreal, however. Add to that the fact that the cast doesn't have quiet the chemistry of "The Practice" and the tension is never as strong as "The X-Files." While it is scary in parts and suspension of disbelief usually works, there's lots of room for growth. Especially in the we're-in-this-together-let's-hold-hands-isn't-this-great sense. The first episode had more hand-holding than an entire elementary school crossing an interstate highway would, although that phenomenon seems to have disappeared in later episodes.

The show is definitely moving forward in the right direction. There's even a hint of a larger X-Files-esque conspiracy — nods to an ongoing undercurrent plotline, which should help to build and sustain its momentum. Elmer, who apparently saw the Holocaust coming, is now seeing "the unnamed," a similarly threatening major world event on the horizon.

Just as long as "The Others" keeps up its sense of self and doesn't let special effects, sentimentality or just plain ludicrousness get in the way of telling strong, new stories each week, we'll be looking forward to our trips to the other side for quite some time.