Billed as ABC Family’s first procedural drama, Stitchers has a familiar setup: Protagonist Kirsten Clark (Emma Ishta) is a young, bright grad student with a nebulous family background and unique psychological characteristics that prompt her to be recruited by a secret government agency, solving crimes no one else can. Unlike her famous genre antecedent Sydney Bristow, however, Kirsten’s missions don’t rely on fisticuffs. With the help of cutting-edge technology, Kirsten’s consciousness is inserted—or in the parlance of the show, “stitched”—into the minds of the recently deceased, allowing her to access their memories to help solve time-sensitive cases and save lives. Joining Kirsten in her work on the Stitcher program are neuroscientist and “Settlers Of Catan man” Cameron Goodkin (Kyle Harris), bioelectrical engineer Linus Ahluwalia (Ritesh Rajan), and program leader Maggie Baptiste (Salli Richardson-Whitfield). Kirsten’s roommate and fellow grad student Camille Engelson (Allison Scagliotti) rounds out the cast.
While Stitchers has genre trappings—a sci-fi premise, technobabble, and geek references galore—the series prioritizes its playful team dynamic over the rules of stitching. This may be prudent, giving the creative team space to tweak the parameters of the technology while they identify and lean into the show’s strengths. Unfortunately, by not giving viewers a firm grasp of stitching, the series sacrifices any potential for a unique and distinctive approach. Kirsten’s special ability—a condition called temporal dysplasia that causes her to have no sense of the passage of time—is essential to her ability to stitch, but this is glossed over after the pilot and it’s difficult to know how prominent a role it will play throughout the first season. So far, it’s treated as an excuse for Kirsten to not feel or understand emotion, a defining character trait said to have been present throughout her life, but directly contradicted by the flashbacks shown of her childhood. Most viewers will happily accept the series’ hand wave about stitching, but the inconsistencies with Kirsten’s condition are already distracting by the second episode.
Despite this, Emma Ishta is engaging as Kirsten, finding humor and heart in the character while maintaining an appropriate prickliness. Ishta is particularly strong when given the chance to expand on Kirsten’s limited range, and with the right material, could shine in the role. Genre fans will be happy to see Eureka alum Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Warehouse 13’s Allison Scagliotti featured prominently, though Richardson-Whitfield’s Maggie is a disappointingly generic authority figure, there to bark orders at or indulge her team, depending on the needs of the episode. Scagliotti, on the other hand, immediately stands out as Camille, injecting energy and relatability into the otherwise dry series.
The show highlights the complexities of the process with its large team of scientists, all of whom monitor Kirsten’s condition while she’s within a stitch. It’s an encouraging move: There’s a deep bench of characters waiting to be explored, should the show choose to do so. Most prominent among these are Linus, played with charm by Ritesh Rajan, and team captain Cameron. The pilot wastes little time setting up the nerdy Cameron as a love interest for Kirsten, but whereas Scagliotti gives Camille a palpable intelligence and quick wit, Kyle Harris has yet to impress as Cameron, his dialogue more stilted and writerly. Spouting pop-culture references constantly, Cameron is presented as a nerd, but his references lack specificity and the character comes across as inauthentic as a result.
Harris is saddled with quite a bit of exposition, but his most significant hurdle is the series’ uneven tone. Stitchers oscillates between embracing the premise’s inherent campiness or eschewing it in favor of a more intense quasi-realism. There are other inconsistencies as well. Some of the visual effects are creepy and effective; others are laughable. Character backgrounds focused on in one episode are forgotten in the next, along with previously significant locations and protocols. The series contains elements of an interesting, entertaining procedural: It has a solid cast, a creative premise, and a reliable formula. If it can find its voice, develop its characters a bit more, and either get off or more expertly navigate the tonal fence, Stitchers could become a satisfying addition to the summer schedule. It has a ways to go before it gets there, though, and viewers will need to be patient.