STUDIO: Shout Factory
MSRP: $49.99 RATED: TV-14
Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
• 13 episodes, including seven that never aired in the U.S.
• Selected episode commentaries
• Deleted scenes with optional introductions
• Interview with creator Richard Hatem

How would we think of The X-Files if it had been cancelled less than halfway through the first season? There were some truly great episodes in the front nine or ten, but it really wasn’t until season two that the show found its stride (and if you ask me, it really cemented it’s place in TV history as a classic with the season 2 finale).

That question was one that was going through my mind as I watched Miracles, the supernatural TV show that ran on ABC for a scant nine episodes. The show is now out on DVD in a box set that includes episodes that never aired. It didn’t take me long to realize that this show could have been another X-Files – in more ways than one.

The Show

AKA, the day it rained "milk."

It’s sort of fitting that Skeet Ulrich would star in a TV show that’s essentially a clone of The X-Files, since he’s essentially a clone of Johnny Depp. Ulrich was not someone whose presence I thought of as “good” in a project until I saw Miracles – he’s the brightest spot in the show.

Ulrich plays Paul Callan, a man who investigates miracles for the Roman Catholic Church. He grows disillusioned, though, when every incident he investigates turns out to be explainable. At the end of his faith, Paul is sent to investigate the case of a young boy who seems able to heal people. Many strange events occur and finally Paul ends up getting hit by a train (it’s a long story) and as he lays there dying, the kid heals him. Paul sees, spelled in his own blood on a shard of windshield, the message “God is now here.”

When Paul reports back to his superior (the great Hector Elizondo, who ends up as a semi-regular) he is shocked to find out two things – no one ever sent him on this case and the Church doesn’t believe him. In a huff he quits and is quickly recruited by the mysterious Alva Keel, who runs a group called Sodalites Quaerito, which sounds like a meal you order at Taco Bell. Keel tells Paul something very strange – many other people have had similar visions of a similar phrase written in blood… but to them it read “God is nowhere.”

"It’s a lung, right? Wait, I’ll get this. It’s a kidney?"

That’s basically the pilot episode of Miracles and it’s ace. What a great premise – the “God is now here” vs “God is nowhere” thing really got me excited. Plus the pilot was stylish, filled with hallucinatory imagery and bizarre dream sequences, and with a strong performance by Ulrich as the weary Paul. Unfortunately, the rest of the series wouldn’t live up to that standard (except for Ulrich, who is excellent).

The second episode introduces us to the inner workings of Sodacrackers Quesada, which is really just Keel (played by Angus McFadyen with differing degrees of buffoonery over the course of the series – the character is introduced as dark and angry, but that characterization never sticks) and the very beautiful but endlessly extraneous Evelyn (played by soap star Marisa Ramirez), a former cop and I suppose the muscle of the operation.

It turns out that Miracles is far more secular than the pilot would have you believe. Keel is interested in everything from ghost lights to… well, other kinds of ghosts. The episodes that were made lean heavily to the “talking to the dead” side of things, but we do see that Keel follows things like Bigfoot and UFOs as well, making him much more a Fox Mulder type.

Pope John Paul’s diaries held some surprises.

The big difference between Miracles and The X-Files is that this show has no skeptic, although one of the main elements of the storyline is that Paul is slowly examining his own faith in God, so he sometimes takes the Scully role. And that Miracles sometimes has three characters (although Evelyn is so often left behind during investigations that she feels like a guest star).

Which is too bad – the basic premise of the show, as outlined in the pilot, is great. Something more religiously oriented would have been fresh and interesting. But of course this brings me back to my question in the prologue of this review. What would we think of The X-Files if it had been cancelled nine episodes in, like Miracles? Tragically bad episodes like Ghost in the Machine and Space (one of the worst hours of television EVER) would be among the few episodes we could judge the series by. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that Miracles, which had signs of promise and a strong writing staff (including David Greenwalt), could have gone places.

"How many times do I have to tell you not to hang around the playground, Ulrich? First of all, this is real life. Not Finding Neverland."

But this is a review of the episodes that exist. There are some that are pretty classic – the pilot, The Ferguson Syndrome, is fantastic. The second episode, The Friendly Skies, is not just a rehashing of a legend or a true Fortean incident but actually something new and interesting and possibly feature worthy – a plane disappears for a few seconds and every passenger gets their wish, with attendant consequences. Hand of God introduces an intriguing running storyline that never gets a chance to pay off – is Paul working on the side of God, as he thinks, or something else? The Letter offers a neat examination of the death penalty in a new way. And The Battle of Shadow Ridge is a hit or miss episode (with more hits) about mysterious Civil War apparitions that turn out to be more than ghosts.

"Devin, you are such a fag0rt your revue of star wars shows that you suck! lol. please enter me in teh Fishburne contest."

The clunkers, though, hurt. You Are My Sunshine and The Bone Scatterer are both bad, generic filler episodes. And The Patient, about a demon possessing a comatose guy, is one of the more painfully bad things I have ever had to watch.

Still, the good episodes outweigh the bad. The real test of a season set like this is how fast I watch it, and I ripped through the Miracles box in about two days. Fans of The X-Files and the paranormal will find lots to like here, and you may end up like me, wishing ABC had given the show more of a chance to grow into something great.

8.5 out of 10

The Look

"I hate meeting here. I just want some Vietnamese food!"

Miracles is presented in full screen. The picture tends to be quite good, with solemnly muted colors and deep blacks, but in some scenes the picture takes on a distractingly grainy quality. My impression is that this is an issue with the original photography.

8.4 out of 10

Once a month Skeet got his Depp DNA touched up.

The Noise

This set boasts a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, but I have to say that it never wowed me. The audio just doesn’t seem like it was originally mixed for such depth, and most of the action occurs in the front speakers – with plenty of center speaker use. The sound is rich, though, never getting tinny or thin as so many other TV on DVD releases have been.

8.7 out of 10

The Goodies

For a series that didn’t even make it through its first episode order, Miracles on DVD has an impressive set of extras. It’s not on the level of Freaks and Geeks (also from Shout Factory), but it’s better than The X-Files or Buffy. There are six commentaries, with creator Richard Hatem and various guests, including writers and directors. That’s about half of the episodes. The commentaries are far from revelatory, and Hatem seems to hold little to no ill-will for the show’s cancellation, although he obviously regrets it.

There are also a set of 5 deleted scenes, attached to the episodes from which they were cut. It’s mostly stuff cut for run time, so it’s never all that amazing. Each clip is introduced by Richard Hatem.

And speaking of Hatem (with a name like that he should be fronting a death metal band), there’s also a half hour interview with him, where he covers the history of the show and what happened to it. Much of the material will be familiar if you’ve listened to the commentaries first, but there’s some good stuff here.

9.0 out of 10

Claire had a nice day at the fair, but the face painting table had really been half-assed.

The Artwork

Miracles comes in a very nice box with an appropriately moody slip case cover featuring the three main characters. “God is how here” and “God is nowhere” alternate across it. Inside the slip case is an easy to manage folding package, with each disc clearly labeled with episode titles – what a joy. All too often you just get episode (or even just disc) numbers and you don’t know which episode is which. The titles help you jump right to the ones you like.

9.5 out of 10

Overall: 8.9 out of 10