Number 7: The Others
‘The Others’ revolves around freshman college student Marian Kitt and her battle to understand and control her psychic powers. When the gift is uncovered by her Psychology professor, she is introduced to a band of people each with their own individual gift and, through them, their leader and noted psychic Elmer Greentree. As part of the group, Marian becomes integral to their weekly investigations into all manner of supernatural mysteries, as well increasingly becoming a weapon in the fight against an imminent demonic apocalypse.
Created as a late instalment in the late Nineties boom of supernatural television, ‘The Others’ was created by writing team John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who found fame afterwards with treatments for movies such as the third and fourth instalments in the Terminator franchise – ‘Rise of the Machines’ and ‘Salvation’ – as well as Bruce Willis vehicle ‘Surrogates’ in 2009. The show also included contributions from series regulars James Wong and Glen Morgan, previously involved in both ‘The X Files’ and ‘Millennium’. Designed to take advantage of the feeling of portentous doom that hung over many people during the turn of the century, the focus of the show was the efforts of a group of gifted individuals and their attempts to combat the end of days. Using, as most horror-themed procedurals of the time did, ‘The X Files’ as a template the series adopted a similar strategy to ‘Millennium’ and dealt almost exclusively with a particular niche within that framework; whereas ‘Millennium’ focussed on creating a grounded and realistic universe in which to tackle its mysteries, ‘The Others’ built a misty and peculiar semi-real world and dealt solely with supernatural and occult storylines.
When other shows focussed on a strong central dynamic of partnership – Mulder and Scully for example – or antagonism – as with Black and Watts – between two people, ‘The Others’ had a comparatively large central cast. Main protagonist Marian was played by fresh faced newcomer Julianne Nicholson and, despite having a small number of bit part roles prior to her casting here, she was utterly convincing. Beginning the series frightened and fragile, she became more confident as the show moved on, and by season’s end a number of interesting dynamics had been introduced that allowed her to further flesh out the character. Her mentor, and leader of ‘The Others’, was played by Bill Cobbs – the go-to guy for avuncular African-American men for the best part of forty years. Both his voice and appearance brought a gravitas to the role of mentor to the group and, though he was little involved in the weekly machinations, he was central to the success, or not, of the demon invasion. Each of the other members of the group had different powers and, from Missy Crider’s Satori – who could read information from the touch and emotion of others – to O’Connor’s Warren Day – a savant numerologist – each one had its role to play as the season panned out.
‘The Others’ had a number of fascinating ideas for storylines: in Episode 4 (‘Souls on Board’) the team found themselves on a flight that was a mirror image of one that had previously crashed, and in a race against time to prevent history repeating itself; Episode 6, entitled ‘Luciferous’, shows Marian’s attempts to leave the group thwarted by a demonic presence manifesting in the walls of her new apartment; and standout ‘The Ones That Lie in Wait’ (Episode 9) sees the team confronted by a genie-like demon who simply seeks an answer from each to the question “what do you want?”. Other diverse topics such as phony psychics, the death and resurrection of a major character, and the haunting of one of the group by a ghost from the 18th century all appear and each episode rounds out with both a satisfying conclusion and an ominous link to the overarching storyline.
Like many of the shows on this list ‘The Others’ was cancelled by its network, in this case NBC, due to uninspiring ratings; however, unlike those other shows, the failure of ‘The Others’ can be directly attributed to the network itself. The early success of any show is dependent in large part on positive word of mouth and favourable scheduling; the others definitely had the former but was let down in the latter respect. Premiering in the notoriously difficult 10pm Thursday slot, the show was then bumped to the same time on Saturday nights meaning that it was beyond the reach of much of the younger audience to whom it would have appealed. Add in the fact that there was a month delay between Episodes 8 and 9, that the sixth episode shown was chronologically the second, and that the episode that is narratively the series finale was shown before another episode that should have preceded it, then ‘The Others’ was never going to succeed. If genre fans feel disappointed at the cancellation of their favourite show, they should spare a thought for fans of this one; it is difficult to remember a show treated so disrespectfully.
For horror fans, the loss of ‘The Others’ should be mourned. Unlike many other similar shows, it put a real focus on a varied and interesting range of central characters and each one was given not only space in each episode, but also an episode in which they are the central character. The overarching mythology was also developed very promisingly by using the mechanic of showing fragments of the season’s end very early on; a strategy used to great effect in Season Two of ‘Hannibal’. Like many of the older entrants in this list the special effects are patchy in places, with some looking decidedly cheap to the modern viewer, but it is the quality of the stories that makes ‘The Others’ such compelling viewing. An excellent cast, many of whom have gone on to have much deserved wider success, adds to a potent and entertaining brew. Despite a small but loyal fanbase, NBC sees so little value in the show that it has never been released to DVD or to VOD, but thanks to a dedicated following many episodes are now available online. You probably won’t have heard of ‘The Others’ before, but do yourself a favour and check it out – both as an example of fine genre programming and of what happens to a quality show if the network fails to get behind it.