In the US: Thursday, 9/8c, Fox. Starts 14th May
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Fox. Starts 14th May
M Night Shyamalan is a director who first came to fame with The Sixth Sense, an audience-wowwing supernatural thriller about a child who can see dead people and his psychiatrist, Bruce Willis. The principal reason for its success was the twist in its tail.
Shyamalan repeated his success with Unbreakable, which also featured a twist, and as a result, his fate was sealed. As long as name was on the credits, whatever he worked on needed a twist. Or something weird, be it mermaids or Joaquim Phoenix. He tried to fit in twist-free movies such as The Last Airbender, but that’s not what the public wanted and they failed.
So now we have Wayward Pines, a twisty thing exec produced and directed by Shyamalan. It stars Matt Dillon as a Secret Service agent investigating the disappearance of two federal agents, including former lover Carla Gugino, in the eponymous Twin Peaks-like Idaho town of Wayward Pines.
Except his car gets hit on the way and he wakes up in the town hospital without his partner, his wallet or his phone, but with a very sadistic nurse (Melissa Leo). He meets barmaid Juliette Lewis who thinks it’s the year 2000 but that she’s only been in the town a year; he meets Gugino, except she thinks she’s been in the town for years; and sheriff Terrence Howard isn’t too helpful, but really doesn’t want Dillon to leave, even if there’s a risk that Dillon will snuffle up his ice creams. Not that Dillon finds leaving that easy at all, given the town’s Pleasantville-like geography. And death fence.
All weirdy and Shyamalany, hey?
Trouble is that Shyamalan is only directing and fellow exec Chad Hodge (The Playboy Club) is the writer. I say ‘trouble’, but that might be one of the show’s assets, as the script itself isn’t that bad - it’s everything else about it that’s the problem.
Thursday, May 14 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) marks Fox Broadcasting Company (FOX) and Fox International Channels’ global premiere of the 10-episode, intense psychological thriller WAYWARD PINES. The highly anticipated event series, based on Blake Crouch's international best-selling series of books and adapted for television by Chad Hodge (“Runaway,” “The Playboy Club”), is brought to life by suspenseful storyteller M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”), and executive-produced by Shyamalan, Donald De Line, Hodge and Ashwin Rajan.
The event series stars Academy Award nominee Matt Dillon (“Crash”) as a Secret Service agent on a mission to find two missing federal agents, whose investigation only turns up more questions. Debuting simultaneously in more than 125 countries, it will be the world's largest day-and-date launch for a scripted series ever.
Is it any good?
It could have been. Unfortunately, the direction is the single biggest problem the show faces.
The show obviously has parallels with The Prisoner and Twin Peaks, as well as the less well known Meadowlands and Persons Unknown. It has the strange little town with its strange inhabitants and their strange little ways. It has a Number 2 like figure (Howard) to keep the locals in check. It has Dillon as the Number 6 of the piece, trying to work out what’s going on, how he got to the town and then indulging in various failed escape attempts, all while being surveilled. And there’s various intimations that Dillon’s colleagues/bosses have actually set the whole thing up for him.
On top of that, you have the time jumps and the fact that all roads lead to Wayward Pines, as well as the fact that Dillon has previously had to see a psychiatrist for hallucinations, suggesting that he might be mad. With Toby Jones appearing as another psychiatrist who’s both in the town and outside it, telling Dillon that he is indeed mad, we might even be having an Identity or The Ward-style attempt to give Dillon therapy through an exploration of his subconscious. Or a Total Recall/Life on Mars-like attempt to wake up after a near-terminal car accident.
The show, as you might have guessed, is ripe for the viewer to compose all kinds of theories about what’s going on.
Trouble is that we have Shyamalan behind the camera. Now, I’ve always really rated his movie direction, but here, he appears to be trying to do “80s Stephen King TV adaptation”. Composition, pacing, effects - everything screams cheap and shoddy.
Worse than that, he either has no control over the actors or he’s let all those highly billed Oscar nominees run rings around him, because every single one of them is hamming it up for all they’re worth. It’s like they're thinking of it as a fun little holiday break from acting or are endlessly entertained by the silliness of the show’s set-up. Either that or Dillon really is mad and his subconscious is full of Jungian Trickster archetypes. Or the conspiracists behind the evil scheme could only afford to hire amateur LARPers and Howard and co are dead good at playing bad actors.
Again, lots of theories.
The result is that if you close your eyes and think a bit, you can imagine a much better executed, involving and engrossing version of exactly the same script. Open them again and you have to face a gurning competition by Oscar nominees.
It’s an event series, it’ll only be on for a few episodes, you’ll probably have seen something similar done better already, so despite this being world’s largest simultaneous worldwide launch of a TV show, I don’t think you’ll be missing much if you don’t tune in.
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A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending May 8 2015
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A review of the first episode of Showtime/Amazon Prime's Roadies
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A preview of the first episode of TNT's Good Behavior