USA network has been selling its ten-part series Dig with its pedigree: “From the executive producers of Homeland and Heroes” (respectively, Gideon Raff and Tim Kring). This is indisputably true, but the Bible-flavored conspiracy thriller (premieres March 5) did not get the best DNA of either parent.
From Homeland, it inherits a setting in an exoticized Middle East and a tale built around an investigator whose work is complicated by questionable personal choices that waylay the story. From Heroes, it borrows a globe-trotting network of characters whose story will reveal how Everything Is Connected, and a tendency to prioritize complications and twists over engaging story and characters. There are prophecies and Old Testament quotes and cultists and ancient sacred jewels–and, I don’t know, probably horcruxes too–but all the scripture and trinkets add up to a lifeless series that’s more puzzle than narrative.
The center jigsaw piece is Jason Isaacs, once so captivating in Awake, as Peter Connelly, an FBI agent chasing a fugitive in Jerusalem. The case leads Peter to a young redhead (Alison Sudol) who’s been working on an archaeological dig at the Temple Mount, in search of the Ark of the Covenant. “Like Indiana Jones?” Peter asks, in a bit of narrative lantern-hanging that doesn’t change how derivative this all feels. Peter ends up skinny-dipping with her in a ceremonial underground pool and, for good measure, has been having an affair with his boss [Anne Heche]–there’s the Homeland influence. The dig’s object is vague, and slightly ominous-sounding, and Peter begins to suspect that the case he’s on involves more than a simple manhunt.
And there are many more threads in this Biblical garment. A young Orthodox Jewish man, thousands of miles away in Norway, is raising a red calf, under the intense direction of religious elders. Travel several thousand more miles west and hang a left, and we’re in New Mexico, where a boy is being raised in isolation by a creepy religious leader (David Costabile) and a more sympathetic guardian (Lauren Ambrose), who are prepping him for some unnamed, urgent destiny. (The trope of the enigma-child with mysterious powers is another Kringianism, as seen on his Fox drama Touch.)
What do they want with the kid? What do they want with the cow? Why the Temple Mount? Why all the red hair? It’s all hush-hush, but you can take an educated guess simply by Googling some of the salient keywords. And that might be a more entertaining use of your time, since for all its ambitious thread-knitting, Dig gets ensnared in its own tangle of B-movie dialogue and Conspiracy 101 twists.
In the end, this archaelogical drama feels like an artifact itself, but of a more recent era: the time, after the success of Lost, in which serials like Flash-Forward and The Event mimicked that show’s complicated mythological stories without its most important element: vivid characters you want to spend time with. Dig looks like something we’ve dug up before: another thriller that spends a lot of time pinning up multicolored string to a corkboard, but never gets around to spinning a good yarn.