Don’t be fooled: Parallels (2015) isn’t a movie. It’s a repurposed, half-successful proof of concept for a TV series that didn’t get picked up. As such, it’s inherently unsatisfying, ending on a reveal that’s obviously meant as a cliffhanger. But for fans of SF television with an interest in the alternate worlds trope, it’s a diverting glimpse at the early days of a timeline in which the series actually survived. (Okay, that was a reach…)
When ne’er-do-well fighter Ronan Carver (Mark Hapka) gets a mysterious phone call from his estranged father, he returns to his home town after years away. Finding his father missing, he’s quickly joined by his sister Beatrix (Jessica Rothe) and neighbor Harold (Eric Jungmann). Together, they investigate the disappearance, a search that leads them to an abandoned building. The building sucks them into an alternate universe, which, according to snarky fellow traveler Polly (Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu), is just the first of many; the building randomly jumps dimensions every thirty-six hours. How? Why? Together the group embarks on a quest to find the answers, and some day make their way home.
Parallels is a decent but not great pilot, stumbling out of the gate with a slow, obvious first half. The treatment of the idea is Alternate Worlds 101, the grainy look is subpar, and there’s a distinct whiff of the amateurish. Things turn around in the second half —episode two?—when the actors (especially Jungmann and Wu) develop some comfortable rhythm, back story is revealed, and the rich possibility of the premise is further explored. One could imagine a season full of “world-of-the-week” stories, full of clever plots and multifaceted performances as the heroes bump awkwardly into alternate versions of themselves, while chasing technological lore and solving cosmic mysteries. An obscure elevator pitch might be Otherworld meets The Lost Room. (Does anybody remember those shows? Probably bad marketing!)
Alas, one can see why this wasn’t picked up. Ronan never quite rises above hole-in-the-middle heroism. There’s a villain, Tinker (Michael Monks), who displays fuzzy-logic behavior and handwavey technological genius. The dialogue, especially early, is infodumpy. I’m not sure this is the right cast for Tatiana Maslany-like acting challenges. Ultimately, Pareallels doesn’t rise above “interesting curiosity” status.