Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Television Review: Wayward Pines

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: This show delivers a muddled mess that starts out as a creepy Prisoner/Stepford Wives hybrid then decides it wants to go full on sci fi.

Note that this review does have some spoilers, though I still recommend proceeding because it may spare you from some of the more pointless moments of this show.

This series from executive producer M. Night Shyamalan delivers a sci fi / mystery tale based on the novels of the same name by Blake Crouch.  Matt Dillon stars as Secret Service agent Ethan Burke who is looking for two other agents that have gone missing and finds himself in the mysterious town of Wayward Pines after a car accident that occurs in a remote part of Idaho.  While there, he finds the agents he is looking for (one dead, one still alive), but also finds that he is not allowed to leave the town and that everybody there (including the still living agent whom he had previously had a fling with) is acting rather strange in a Stepford Wives kind of way.  Meanwhile, Burke's wife and son go looking for him when they do not get sufficient answers from the Secret Service as to why he has gone missing.  This results in them also eventually stumbling into Wayward Pines (again, after an accident) for a great big family reunion with all sporting WTF looks on their faces.  That takes us through the fourth episode of the series.  Then the fifth episode completely changes the game and turns this into an entirely different show . . .

Before this series debuted, I heard claims that it wanted to deliver the next Twin Peaks to television, which maybe made some sense because it also took place in a remote Northwestern town.  But then after the first four episodes, any comparisons to that 90's cult favorite show could go no further than the fact that both took place in a remote Northwestern town.  What made Twin Peaks so interesting (at least early on) was the colorful, quirky characters and the witty dialogue that carried each episode.  Wayward Pines woefully has none of that as it stalls on a one-note tone across its first four episodes.  It goes for the creepy angle and then never gets out of that gear.  It's populated with all these characters who possess a politely menacing demeanor to make us think "Ooooh, that's creepy!"  It has that perennial droning ambient music in the background to make us think "Ooooh, that's creepy!"  It has these weird lapses in time to make us think "Ooooh, that's creepy!"  And so on, ad naseum.

But while it muddles through that with plenty of copy and paste dialogue and scenes for four episodes, all along teasing a Prisoner-esque setting that it never really develops, it then pulls the rug out from under us in its fifth episode.  The sudden twist that comes midway through its ten-episode first season (and no, I'm not buying into that "limited run" line) and introduces a whole new show with a much stronger science fiction premise which leaves us saying why the f$%k did you bother with all that other crap in the first place?!

After the fourth episode, I was ready to give up on the show because I had grown completely bored with its one-note "Ooooh, that's creepy!" direction.  But I heard on the internet that the fifth episode was a game-changer, so I stuck with it.  And I am intrigued enough now to continue to the next episode, but I'm also pissed that they made me wade through the mess of the first four hours.  Maybe that will all come into play later, but I'm not certain how much I care at this point.  If you haven't started watching the show yet and think you might be interested, I advise maybe catching the first episode and then finding some recaps of the next three on the internet somewhere.  Then just jump onboard with episode five.  If you are watching and haven't made it to the fifth ep yet, just know that you have a huge bait-and-switch course change ahead of you.

As M. Night Shyamalan is involved with the show and he is known for his big twists, I'm not sure how much of a part he played with the mid-season game-changer (remember that this is based on a series of books).  And I'm not one of the many Shyamalan haters because he has managed to do some excellent films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and the often over-looked Devil.  So I'm not willing to blame the missteps of this show on him.  But this is a mess of a series that wastes the talents of Matt Dillon and the other good actors involved.  Maybe the course change can salvage the show, but it definitely has approaching the next few episodes with an attitude that has me ready to cut bait quick.

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