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.
Ah, TV Land. The network for people who like TV to be how it was in the olden days, with studio audiences, jokes you can see coming a mile off and no one doing anything that came into fashion in the past two decades.
Or at least it used to be, because over the past few years, with shows such as Hot In Cleveland and Jennifer Falls, the network has been trying to crack a slightly younger demographic - fortysomethings. Particularly fortysomething women.
Never has this been more explicit than with Younger, TV Land’s latest, most audience-flattering show, in which the recently divorced 40-year-old Sutton Foster (Bunheads) tries to find a job, only to discover that that’s a lot harder than it sounds. However, when she gets mistaken in a bar for a twentysomething, she gets a full on makeover and lands herself an assistant job at a publishing firm - by pretending to be in her late 20s. Now all she has to do is keep pretending to be a youngster with their Twitters and their krav maga and their mobile phones, while putting up with her new, overbearing, idea-stealing 43-year-old boss Miriam Shor (GCB).
Created and written by Sex and the City creator Darren Star from the novel by Pamela Redmond Satran, Younger is the kind of idea that can work in the fantasy world of a novel written more or less pre-Internet, where you can cast whom you like and not have to worry about Google et al, but which fails horribly onscreen in a series made now.
Foster is 40 and - not to be uncharitable - could probably get away with 35, but only someone in their 40s (or mid-50s in Star’s case) would believe her to be 26. And if that were the show’s only problem, it might be able to get away with it. But Star’s not exactly either down with the kids or the 40 year olds for that matter. He does his best, but the idea that a 40-year-old woman who used to work in publishing would need to Google “How to open a Twitter account” doesn’t wash. Neither does the idea that young co-worker Hilary Duff wouldn’t immediately Google and Facebook her new co-worker and immediately see through the lie. When Satran wrote the book in 2005, it was plausible, but not now.
It doesn’t help that one of Star’s target references for what all the young people are talking about is Judge Judy.
Even if we excuse the logistical and cultural problems, we have the show’s next dilemma, which is that its content is largely wearisome. Foster, desperately trying to hide her age, almost gives herself away… How? Do you want to guess? Is it because she inadvertently let’s slip some childhood memory of growing up in the 80s? Maybe it’s because someone from her college days turns up? How about when she said she’d been to Princeton and spent the time studying rather than organising protests and sit-ins? Less than a decade previously…
No, it’s because she takes off all her clothes in a women’s changing room revealing her pubic area isn’t as well groomed or free of grey hairs as those of her younger friends. Cue long discussion with best pal Debi Mazar (Entourage) about the kids of today and their styling fashions. That’s about as deep as it gets.
As a side note, maybe I’m just not very studly and toned for my age, but if I were trying to hide my true age from someone 15 years younger than me, taking off all my clothes in front of them probably wouldn’t be top of the list of things I’d do. I might wear a towel at least.
Anyway, back on topic, occasionally, the show veers into slightly more interesting, Sex and the City territory, with Foster trying to help Duff be more assertive with her boyfriend and Duff quoting Taylor Swift to justify her helping other women. But this feels like a show written by someone who doesn’t really have much contact with any of the groups it’s about and who only wants to sell its audience a fanciful piece of flattery - yes, you, too, could be young again and better at it than those youngsters are…
To be honest, if that is your bag, you might as well go whole hog, bring in some time travel and go off and watch the very, very similar, much better and actually more plausible Hindsight. That's also got a better soundtrack. And Laura Ramsey.
Normally, when you hear the phrase ‘weird loner’, it’s being used to describe someone who went off on a killing spree or who turned out to be some kind of sex criminal. Now, even though Fox’s new Weird Loners incorrectly uses the phrase to mean ‘someone who’s older than 30 but isn’t married yet’ (no judgement), you should probably edge away from it as though it’s got a sniper rifle or someone locked in its basement.
The general premise is that four individually single people, through the interconnected nature of fate, etc, end up living together in the same Queens townhouse. Or next door to each other. Or both. It’s not 100% clear.
Neither is it clear exactly why they’re weird - apart from Nate Torrence (Hello Ladies,Mr Sunshine), who's the kind of man who puts on glove puppet plays for kids on his front porch, even though there are no kids around. However, Becki Newton (Love Bites, The Goodwin Games, Ugly Betty) is simply someone who commits too quickly and gets a bit annoyed when men won’t commit quite as quickly as she will. Meera Rohit Kumbhani is a generally monogamous free spirit who doesn’t want to commit, while Zachary Knighton (Happy Endings) is equally commitment-phobic but far more into having sex with as many people as he can.
They’re loners. But they’re not really that weird.
This pilot episode, written by The King of Queens creator Michael J Weithorn, acts as an introduction to the four characters, with Newton and Torrence already living next door to each other, Knighton being Torrence’s cousin, and Kumbhani someone Torrence gets a lift from after buying a painting from her. And since they’re pretty much all homeless except Torrence, they all end up living in his house. Except Newton’s only homeless because she gives Torrence her house, so have they all ended up moving into her house or do they all have two houses between them now? I’m not sure.
For about 90% of the episode, the only weird loners you’ll spot are the occasional jokes that actually make you laugh. It’s only once we get into the final 10% and we get a scene of bad lip-reading that things actually start to get consistent.
But to be honest, you’ll end up either hating or feeling sorry for the characters, and wondering why the show’s writers think they’re to be mocked, as it doesn’t feel like they’re on their side at all.
Fox has only committed to six episodes for this one, so chances of this getting renewed, particularly with its low starting ratings are small, so it’s a comfortable recommendation from me not to move in with these faux Friends.
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I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.