'Dig,' a Shallow Archaeological Thriller Set in the Holy Land

American mini-series suffers from having two noncomplementary narratives.

AP

The television writer and producer Gideon Raff, creator of both the Israeli series “Hatufim” and its U.S. version “Homeland,” joined up with “Heroes” creator Tim Kring to develop the new mini-series “Dig” (USA Network). Set in Israel, it unrolls a 2,000-year-old conspiracy and exposes the dark secrets of the Holy Land.

The drama, which premiered on March 5 in the United States, is 100 percent American, but the Israeli side of the American-Israeli production comes through loud and clear. Much of the dialogue is in Hebrew, the A-list cast includes Israeli stars such as Moshe Ivgy, Assi Cohen, Ori Pfeffer and Shmil Ben Ari, and some of the filming was done on location in Jerusalem. Last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip prompted a move to Croatia and New Mexico (spoiler alert!).

“Homeland” and “Heroes” brought great success to Raff and Kring, respectively, in the U.S., but to judge by the results this was not a match made in heaven. Instead of a tight drama that leads its main characters into the depths of the conspiracy, “Dig” seems to be two separate mini-series. To briefly borrow the format of “The Affair” (yet another American series with an Israeli connection, co-creator Hagai Levi), “Dig” seems to begin in the narrative voice of Raff and then switch to telling Kring’s story, but without any sense of harmony between them. The two narrative arcs will presumably converge as the series progresses, but neither gives viewers a good reason to stay around until that happens.

One story follows Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs, of the Harry Potter franchise), an FBI agent trying to escape his past who is stationed in Jerusalem. Having met a young archaeologist (Alison Sudol) a day before her body is discovered, he becomes the prime suspect in her murder but his diplomatic immunity allows him to take part in the investigation and, most importantly, to play cat-and-mouse with the Israeli detective Golan Cohen. Cohen is played by Pfeffer, the series’ greatest strength, who radiates charisma as the rugged Israeli cop.

The more we learn about the FBI agent, the less convincing the character becomes. Already in the first episode we find out that the redheaded archaeologist bears a striking resemblance to his daughter, who committed suicide two years earlier. From the moment the similarity is established, it’s hard to understand why he stripped and joined her in a spring and even let her kiss him. There is an implication that the dip in the mikveh will wash his sins away, but the initial episodes do not reveal his past and leave viewers with a questionable dynamic between Connelly and the young woman.

The second story – presumably the brainchild of Kring, who has a thing for the supernatural – is set in the compound in which Josh (Zen McGrath), a 13-year-old boy, has lived his entire life, kept there by evangelist Ted Billingham (David Costabile, “Breaking Bad”). After the boy is shot to death in a scene that tries to deliver superfluous shock (and recalls a similar and much more powerful scene in “Breaking Bad”), we learn that Josh was not the only child in the compound and that there are a number of identical boys, presumably clones, waiting to realize a history-changing prophecy that involves the birth of a red heifer.

The cast is talented, but instead of diving into the story of the main characters and giving them depth, the script lingers on every narrative twist, wringing it dry. “He looks like Josh. But it’s not him. How can it be?” one of the characters (Lauren Ambrose, “Six Feet Under”) says in reference to a cloned boy. Other characters utter wooden lines of dialogue such as “It’s starting,” “The prophecy is coming true” and “On small shoulders rests immense responsibility.” All this, together with quotes from the Bible, the red heifer, the cloned children, a stolen priestly breastplate and world-changing prophecies, make viewing the series an exhausting experience.

“Dig” is an “event series” (the TV industry’s attempt to revive the mini-series gender through rebranding) with just 10 episodes. Accordingly, the mystery must be solved by the end of the season. Along the way, the series tries to reference “The Da Vinci Code” and the Indiana Jones franchise with a wink, but while it briefly closes one eye the narrative collapses under the weight of enigmatic hints, religious mysticism and a disorganized plot that fails to convince viewers to return for the next episode.