Shhhh, The Whispers Is Just Okay

Lily Rabe is solid, but the show is not. Photo: Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Hardly anything's as creepy as a really creepy kid. The cuter the better. Just giganto anime eyes staring up at you and that little cartoon voice with the quirky phonology so tiny and precious that it takes a second to realize she's describing a murder, or that he's secretly half Satan or whatever. Yeesh! The Whispers, ABC's thriller that premieres tonight at 10 p.m., relies a lot on its creepy kids. I'm extremely disinclined to say mean things about children, so I'll just say a few of the young performers on the show are pretty good. They better be, since the show heavily counts on their eerie explanations of what their imaginary friend "Drill" has convinced them to do.

The Whispers stars Lily Rabe as Claire Bennigan, an FBI agent who specializes in cases involving children. She's still mourning the loss of her husband, whose death in some kind of military plane crash is still pretty mysterious, plus her son has recently become deaf. And now she has to go all over the place talking to little kids about the invisible Drill, and how he somehow convinced them to try to kill their parents and commit other dangerous crimes. Perhaps it is not random! Perhaps Drill is targeting specific children whose parents might have particular value to a nefarious scheme! Perhaps supernatural forces are guiding said scheme. Perhaps.

The show is no great shakes. The ostensible drama and tension rarely feel earned, and people's attitudes about child development seem under-informed. But as the show digs harder into its sci-fi elements (it's loosely based on a Ray Bradbury short story called "Zero Hour," in which children facilitate an alien invasion), and pushes into the whole global-mayhem option, it picks up a little juice. Rabe is such a magnetic performer, but even she can't always liven up rote police process scenes. Much better than to have her husband's death — well, "death" — be tied in with all this Drill business and the possible other worldly forces, etc. Better to have an emerging alien invasion story, even a so-so one, than another rogue cop saga.

There's not a ton here to love. But there are glimmers of potential and an internal dignity that's at least a little bit interesting. ABC made three episodes available to critics, and while the domestic stories are largely blah, the budding sense of worldwide doom starts to develop into something. More of that, please, The Whispers!

CBS is only programming reruns on Mondays. NBC has survivalist reality show The Island. So The Whispers' real time slot competition is on cable: Lifetime's UnREAL, AMC's Turn, MTV's Teen Mom, and of course WWE Raw on USA. Of those, UnREAL is terrific. But if the rest of your 10 p.m. options seem unappealing, take comfort in the fact that The Whispers is watchable enough.