The premiere of ABC’s Veritas: TheQuest opens on the ivy-covered walls of the Brighton Academy. Here a typically stern headmaster type is lecturing a row of boys on “privilege” and “responsibility.” In front of them bubbles the ruin of a toilet recently bombed by some school prankster. One boy points out that in this instance, their responsibility amounts to ratting out one of their peers. The observation lands him in the headmaster’s office.
This boy, named Nikko Zond (Ryan Merriman), is, in addition to being an accomplished bathroom commando, the school’s resident rebellious teen. What is also clear, from his rather deft play on words with the headmaster’s use of “inform,” is that Nikko is whip-smart. So, despite his delinquent tendencies, Nikko is not a bad kid. While he repeatedly demonstrates his intelligence (as when he helps his father’s team of scientists with some algorithmic equations for mapping stars), he also shows himself to be resourceful, courageous, and cocksure, with a winning smile and a rad body—this courtesy of a gratuitous bathtub beefcake scene.
With all this going for him, why is Nikko acting out at school? No surprise: because his home life is a total mess. When his vandalism gets him kicked out of Brighton Academy, we meet his father, Solomon (Alex Carter), who tries to explain Nikko’s actions by referring to his mother’s death. Overhearing this exchange leads Nikko to reminisce about his last moments with mom (Haley Cayce, uncredited). Also no surprise, she’s idealized in his imagination, especially as she’s set against the blustery swagger and real life disciplinary tactics of his father.
Father-son dynamics are the driving dramatic force of Veritas, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But the relationship between the Zond boys is tired. In separate musings, both father and son agree that their dead mother/wife was practically perfect in every way. Her death defines their relationship: Nikko resents that his father is emotionally absent following mom’s death, and Solomon is reminded of his wife by his son’s mere presence.
As they are forced to spend more time together, Nikko finds out that Dad isn’t the stuffy professor he had thought, but rather the leader of something called the “Veritas Foundation,” dedicated to discovering and disseminating the “Truth” about history and civilization. Furthermore, he finds that even this, “The Quest” of the title, circles back to his perfect(ly) dead mother. Apparently a brilliant scientist and archaeologist in her own right, Haley Cayce’s final discovery, which led to her “mysterious disappearance” in a tomb, would have rewritten the history of human evolution. Why the Veritas Foundation can’t just follow in her footsteps when they seem to have much of her research is only barely explained.
It’s even less clear why everyone is so in the dark about her death, when at least two survivors directly witnessed it, including Nikko. Veritas is full of such narrative ends, left flapping around. But the show’s more pressing problem is that it so obviously cribs from a number of other sources. The primary writers for Veritas, Patrick Massett and John Zinman wrote the script for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, from which the show borrows settings as well as themes. Most specifically, in this father son focus, Veritas replicates Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. One scene even repeats the sequence where Indy/Nikko trudges through some subterranean ancient sewers, although here underneath Paris instead of Venice. And need I mention the show’s indebtedness to the short-lived tv series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?
As a result of all this cribbing and clichéd family dynamics, the first episode leaves little room for narrative or character development. Sure, questions abound. Who makes up the dark cabal of anti-Veritas bad guys, the shadow organization known as Dorna? What really happened to Nikko’s mother, and is she even dead? In the midst of all of these unsolved mysteries, the father-son relationship appears to be (mostly) resolved by the end of this first episode.
So where to go from here? Veritas‘s answer would seem to be: all over the world in some endless pursuit of the “Truth.” Next week, on episode two, the Zonds are off to Antarctica. The “Truth,” it would seem, is out there. Now where have we heard that before?