“The Passage” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) goes to great lengths for something so formulaic and somewhat silly. Give the show credit for an elaborate setup. It opens with federal agents accompanying indigenous trackers deep into remote Bolivia in search of a 200-year-old man. They’re not going there to ask him the meaning of life. It turns out he’s a caged vampire, who infects at least one of the team.
Fast-forward months or years and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has essentially weaponized vampirism, testing it on a number of death row undesirables whose blood may hold the power to create immunity from every disease. To pile one contrivance upon another, we discover that older subjects tend to decay and become useless too quickly. And by “older,” we mean anyone over 10.
This brings us to federal agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). He’s first seen convincing hardened death row types to “volunteer” for the ghastly project, known as Project Noah. In place of certain execution, he promises them “oceans of time.”
The daughter of a drug overdose victim who’s seemingly un-documented by “the system,” young Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney, “American Horror Story”) becomes the perfect juvenile guinea pig. Will hardened veteran Wolgast have qualms about delivering a clever, charming and innocent young child to the folks at Project Noah?
Meanwhile, back in the laboratory, things have begun to go a bit haywire. Members of the test-tube vampire crew may be safe in their glass cages, but they seem to be able to enter the waking thoughts and dreams of their captors. Ruh-roh!
It’s not giving too much away to reveal that Wolgast develops a heart of gold and takes Amy on the run with him, adding a fugitive element to this ticking time bomb of apocalyptic proportions.
What’s curious yet entirely predictable about “The Passage” is popular culture’s need to see supernatural stories through the prism of the national security apparatus. It wasn’t always this way.
Not too long ago, Anne Rice wrote a shelf-full of vampire novels that concocted their own mythology and religious hierarchy, a kind of inverted variation on the author’s lapsed Catholicism. Now, even powers greater than life and death are subject to the efforts of the CDC or Homeland Security. It’s absurd when you think about it, but it shows how pop culture reflects contemporary obsessions and fears.
- he “Independent Lens” documentary “Rodents of Unusual Size” (9 p.m., PBS) explores how residents of Louisiana’s Cajun country cope with the nutria, a giant ratlike creature weighing more than 20 pounds whose population is in the tens of millions. We meet trappers collecting an agency’s bounty of nutria worth $5 a tail and designers trying to popularize the swamp rat’s fur
- Hunter’s (Melina Kanakaredes) early release outrages her victims on “The Resident” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
- Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman offer advice on “The Bachelor” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
- Comedians gather for “The 4th Annual Howie Mandel Stand-Up Extravaganza” (7 p.m., CW, TV-14).
- “Gretchen Carlson: Breaking the Silence” (7 p.m., Lifetime) explores accounts of sexual harassment and abuse.
- Lovers and courtroom rivals on “Bull” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
- Daly is desperate to clear his name on “Manifest” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
- Too much static distracts Shaun on “The Good Doctor” (9 p.m., ABC,