Once upon a time, ABC Family was the home of some pretty great genre entertainment. They had The Middleman. They had Kyle XY. Now, that’s all gone, and instead they have Stitchers... which is horrible in a can’t-look-away fashion as well as an instant-drinking-game fashion. Spoilers ahead...
Stitchers is basically like a TV version of Source Code, with a few differences. And a lot of “quirky procedural drama” crap thrown in.
In Stitchers, Kirsten (Emma Ishta) suffers from a rare condition called Temporal Dysplasia, which means she has no sense of the passage of time. Or something. And she’s also kind of on the spectrum and doesn’t understand human emotions, except by using flash cards. When she’s confronted with the fresh corpse of her foster father, she has no emotional response, and just keeps cracking terrible jokes.
This lack of emotional awareness and temporal awareness makes Kirsten the perfect subject for a secret government program, run by the most incompetent and unprofessional organization of all time. It has no name, and in fact you could call it the Organization Too Secret To Know (O2STK), except that that was a much, much better television show. Sorry, still bitter. Moving on.
So this organization, that tolerates rank sexual harrassment (seriously, just watch the video up top) and total lack of professionalism (again, see video), has developed a technology called “Stitching,” which allows you to insert your mind into the memories of a newly deceased person. They’ve only tried this with one person so far, and she couldn’t handle it — but for some reason, they think Kirsten will do better.
And she does! She goes inside the brain of a guy who planted some bombs around the city and then blew himself up, and she gets clues to the locations of the last two bombs, which then have to be proceduraled-out for the rest of the episode. Go Kirsten!
But one of the big conflicts in the episode is that Kirsten isn’t supposed to do field work, according to her new boss, Maggie (Salli Richardson-Whitfield from Eureka, clearly collecting a paycheck) whose job it is to tell her not to do stuff and then scowl ineffectually when she goes ahead and does it anyway. That’s clearly going to be the format of the show going forward.
Kirsten teams up with the head of the lab, Cameron (Kyle Harris), who’s clearly supposed to be one of those lovable nerds you see on television all the time — but instead comes across as a complete asshat. (Again, the video up top, starting with him saying “Let’s get those clothes off you and get busy,” is all you need to see.)
Here’s my favorite part: After Kirsten goes inside a dead guy’s mind for the first time, she has an extreme reaction, at one point going into shock. When she finally emerges from the bomber’s memories, she’s basically out of her mind with dissociation, and she kisses Cameron while she’s still getting rid of the other guy’s memories. Then she passes out. Okay, fine. She’s in a government facility, where they will put her someplace and keep her under observation, right?
Instead, she wakes up in Cameron’s bed, because he removed her from the secure government lab and took her home. To his bed. He says he slept on top of the sheets, so he could monitor her all night. And a nurse or somebody — one of the women who bustles around the lab without having much of a speaking part — took Cameron’s clothes off for her. But still? Ewww. How is that an acceptable procedure after someone has passed out in a government lab as a result of mind-melding with a dead guy? Kirsten could have a deadly clot in her brain, or major cerebral trauma, or whatever. But it’s supposed to be cute that Cameron took her home and put her in his bed.
And let’s not even get started on Linus (Ritesh Rajan), the other “lovable nerd” who’s there to make Cameron seem kind of decent by comparison. The part where Linus ogles Kirsten and says that he wanted her to be naked in the aquarium, instead of wearing a wetsuit? And the part where he sets it up so that if she’s having a fatal brain attack and possibly about to die, she has to type “iheartlinus” before she can be pulled out? It’s so skeevy, it actually defies logic. All of it, really.
Oh, and you have to admire the way this show dresses its main character in a fetish outfit and then makes fun of that fact, as if to say “Hey, we’re in on the joke.” Which actually does not make it better, but only makes the whole thing seem more pathetic.
[Edited to add: Rewatching that clip above, I’m realizing I meant to mention the part where she’s asking them real practical questions about this life-threatening experimental procedure she’s about to do, and they’re like “Ha, you’ll see for yourself!” WTF. Also, “Princess.”]
The real problem with Stitchers — and some of this is probably just the pilot being a pilot, with all the rough patches that go with that — is that it has no idea what kind of show it wants to be. If it was a straight-up comedy, a lot of the stuff like “Oh, I took you home and put you in my bed after you had a major neurological trauma” would at least seem like a joke. But this show, despite featuring some totally tin-eared comedy bits, apparently also wants to be a serious procedural, and make us care about the bombs that are going to go off.
Also among the things we’re supposed to care about? Kirsten. She’s approximately the 5,000,000th smart person with no understanding of human emotions who’s been introduced on television in the past week. The main novelty here is that she’s female, and incredibly skinny, with super-nice hair that suggests she understands the need for high-end salons even if she doesn’t understand feelings. Emma Ishta, playing this emotionally vacant and slightly sociopathic character, strikes a very flat affect that I’m not sure is entirely intentional, while also seeming snotty rather than lovably snarky.
The best bits? Are where Kirsten spars with the cop who found her dead father, and who later discovers her investigating mad bombers and stuff. He apparently is going to be her recurring foil, getting in her way before eventually becoming an ally around, oh, episode eight or so. She smirks at him and he smirks back, over her father’s corpse.
We also get some hints of backstory — Kirsten’s father was a sciencey muckety muck, and he had to go away, so he left her with “Ed,” the guy who just died, and they may have had something to do with the Stitcher program. At the end of the episode, Kirsten wants to quit the program, but then they promise to help her investigate her step-dad’s apparent suicide (which obviously wasn’t.)
Oh, and meanwhile, Kirsten’s housemate is another slumming ex-Syfy actor: Alison Scagliotti (Warehouse 13). She’s basically playing Claudia again, except that she has no good material to work with. At the start of the episode, she accuses Kirsten of sabotaging her grad-school research, and gets Kirsten put on academic suspension. Then she throws Kirsten out of their house — but later in the episode, Claudia, I mean Camille, learns about the secret dead-brain-invading program and becomes part of the scooby gang or something. It’s sad because Scagliotti really tries to get all the mileage she can out of the weak jokes she’s given.
All in all, this show is a mess, and watching it will be sort of a meta experience — because this show feels dead on arrival, and you, the viewer, will be entering into its dead consciousness and experiencing its moribund storytelling. And yet, I’m kind of fascinated by the badness, and I need something to fill the void left by Scorpion’s summer break. This is the definition of “so bad it’s hilarious.” Let’s watch the shit out of this together.