Works of science fiction and fantasy are more prone than other genres to be judged based on the originality of their premises rather than the skill of their execution. There’s not exactly a shortage of “workplace rivals fall in love” stories or “reckless cop and straight-laced partner solve crime” stories or “reckless crook and straight-laced partner do crime” stories, and that’s without even getting into shows about lawyers. But works reusing tried-and-true premises in other genres don’t have their complete family tree examined, while every single “medical experiment gone wrong” story since 1818 gets compared to Frankenstein . That said, judging from its trailer, the only way The Passage could turn out to feel fresh and original is if it ends up secretly being a “workplace rivals fall in love” romantic comedy.
The show, which stars Saved by the Bell’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar, is an adaptation of Justin Cronin’s bestselling trilogy of novels, the first of which was published in 2010. That means the “man gets hired to deliver adorable little girl to her death in order to save the word, but reconsiders over the course of a road trip” plot is not from the 2013 PlayStation game The Last of Us, although viewers will surely be reminded of it. (They also might be reminded of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” or The Brothers Karamazov.) The Passage also predates Midnight Special and Stranger Things (but not Firestarter or E.T.). And there have been a few zombie plague, vampire plague, and zombie vampire plague stories recently; some of them arrived before 2010 and some of them arrived afterward, but the average Fox viewer sitting down to watch The Passage isn’t going to do the math to figure out what’s derivative and what just looks derivative in 2018. They’ll just see the trailer—a montage of familiar images, ideas, and plot threads, stitched together willy-nilly and brought to a shambling approximation of life—and think it looks a lot like something they’ve seen before.