As director and producer, few storytellers have utilized the wonderment and fascination (and sometimes horror) of children as points-of-entry into the wonderment and fascination of the adult world more effectively than Steven Spielberg has.
Conversely, Spielberg has also masterfully used the normalized responses of children to the abnormal as an approach to disarm world-weary grown-ups.
From Cary Guffey in "Close Encounters" to Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore in "E.T." to Heather O'Rourke in "Poltergeist" to Christian Bale in "Empire of the Sun" to Haley Joel Osment in "A.I." to Dakota Fanning in "Taken" and "War of the Worlds," Spielberg has always know that there's something pure and primal in the reactions of children and that those reactions can be used to steer the reactions viewers of all ages.
Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers of ABC's new "the kids are not alright" drama "The Whispers," but his participation has been underplayed by the network. Partially I suspect that's because Spielberg's name isn't just a non-factor when it comes to TV audiences, one could almost argue that it has become a warning of sorts. ABC knows this all too well after the failure of the Spielberg EPed "Lucky 7" and "The River" in recent years.
But it's one thing not to mention Spielberg's limited involvement with something like "Lucky 7," because ordinary people winning the lottery isn't a subject matter that fans associate with the Oscar-winning director of "Jurassic Park," but when it comes to a story of innocent children being drawn into dark circumstances by mysterious forces of unknown origin as grown-ups frantically search to a cause? That's totally Steven Spielberg's wheelhouse.
ABC might not be trumpeting Steven Spielberg's name with "Whispers" because the network doesn't think his name will help the drama, which premieres on Monday (June 1) night, but the smarter reason why they may not be using his name is because tying Spielberg's name to "Whispers" is a guaranteed linkage to a dozen movies and television shows that do what "Whispers" is trying to do and do it better.
If, on the most basic level, you find scary kids to be scary and your reaction to scary kids being scary is so intense that you don't require anything else from a drama, there's a good chance that you'll like "Whispers." It has little unblinking children delivering ominous dialogue in measured monotones and it has a lot of that. It has nothing else, but I'm not going to try to tell you that that's not something. So if you don't care about adult characters or a plot that progresses with any sort of momentum in the direction of anything resembling answers? "Whispers" may be your new summer obsession, because scary kids are unquestionably scary. Steven Spielberg understood you need more than that for great storytelling, but maybe he was wasting his time with all of that other stuff.
More on "Whispers" after the break...