TV Review - Wayward Pines

Blake Crouch started publishing a trilogy of books in 2012. Collectively, those books are known as The Wayward Pines Trilogy. Chad Hodge, along with Crouch, and a team of writers, including Steven Levenson, Bill Hooper and the Duffer brothers, have adapted those three books into this ten-episode series.

Unlike most TV series adapted from novels like Game of Thrones, Hannibal, True Blood or Dexter, instead of dragging it out, the show is condensing the books and more quickly telling the story.

Matt Dillon stars as Ethan Burke, a Secret Service agent in Seattle who is assigned to find two other missing agents. One is an agent with whom he had an affair. That agent is Kate Hewson, played by Carla Gugino. The other missing agent is one whom we never meet named Bill Evans. Ethan's investigation leads him to a small town in Idaho known as Wayward Pines, but, actually, Ethan drives toward the town but there's an accident and he in fact wakes up in the town's hospital. He immediately realizes something is weird and wrong. He finds Bill's dead body and he finds Kate who is acting like she doesn't know him. More importantly, he also finds out that he can't leave the town, and there is no escape.

Given that premise, it's interesting to think about the show as very much like this year's rip-off of Lost on ABC. The very first shot of the very first episode is Ethan, a well-dressed man waking up in the middle of a forest. If you watched the very first shot of the very first episode of Lost, it's also a well-dressed man named Jack waking up in a forest. It's the same, overhead angle for both shows as well. This show feels very much like Lost in other ways including the overall mystery box aspect, which was the staple of that JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof show.

Hodge previously created the NBC series The Playboy Club, so going from that to this is a bit of a jump, but the director of the first episode and the executive producer is M. Night Shyamalan. Of all people, Shyamalan knows a thing or two about mystery boxes. It's an aspect of almost all of his films, along with the twist ending. Crouch's first novel in fact has a twist ending. Hodge instead takes that twist ending and makes it the midway point of this series. Episode 5 is entitled "The Truth," and it reveals the twist ending, which to me undermines the whole affair, dropping it to a certain level of ridiculousness that like with Shyamalan's most recent movies I can't abide.

On a production level, there are some good things and bad things. Ethan's car accident in the first episode has obvious green-screen that makes the scene look very poor and amateurish. One could argue that it's difficult on a TV show budget to put the audience inside a car as it's being wrecked and flipped, but all one has to do is point to the very first episode of the cancelled NBC series Believe, directed by Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón's car accident on a TV budget puts the one here to shame.

However, the show has a very good cast. The supporting characters are all creepy, but the actors playing them do fantastic work. Chief among them is Terrence Howard (Empire and Law & Order: LA) who has been doing great work in television since 1992. He's also an Oscar-nominee who turns in great performance after great performance. With Howard and Dillon together on screen in this series, it's a reunion for the two since both appeared in the Best Picture-winner Crash (2005). Only, this time Howard's character of Sheriff Arnold Pope gets to be aggressive, demeaning and humiliating to Dillon's character instead of the other way around, as it was in the 2005 film.

Oscar-winner Melissa Leo co-stars as Nurse Pam who is perhaps a more psychotic Nurse Ratched, played by fellow Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Her character's actions seem the most bizarre for nothing but bizarre's sake and not for any real logical reason.

Toby Jones (Infamous and Captain America: The First Avenger) is also good as Dr. Jenkins who talks like a manipulative therapist and Hope Davis (About Schmidt and American Splendor) is also good as the actual, manipulative therapist and teacher, Megan Fisher. With Jones and Davis on screen together or at least in this series together, it's also a quasi-reunion for the two since working together in Infamous (2006).

Juliette Lewis appeared early this year in the series Secrets and Lies but she has a brief role here that is far better than her entire run on that ABC remake. Rounding out the cast though is Shannyn Sossamon who plays Ethan's wife Theresa and Charlie Tahan who plays Ethan's son Ben. Sossamon is good. Tahan hasn't won me over in the first five episodes.

It's through Tahan that we learn what's inside the mystery box in that fifth episode titled "The Truth." Megan tells Ben what's going on. She calls Wayward Pines an ark like Noah's Ark from the Bible. To think about it in modern terms, this series is like Shyamalan's The Village meets FOX's Futurama. I know that for a lot of sci-fi, suspension of disbelief is vital and just going with the premise without asking too many questions is the key, but that becomes difficult when the show has this mystery box aspect where the point is to try figure out the mystery.

There are just too many questions that this show generates that weighs the narrative so far down as to make it almost not matter, which might be the point. The details, the mechanics and the intricacies of creating a modern-day ark, even in the remote forests of Idaho, without any interference and any penetrability are virtually impossible and utterly ridiculous.

The series in Episode 3 reveals itself to be a show about monsters, literal monsters. It will be interesting to see where the show goes in the remaining episodes. It's likely to become a version of other recent monster shows like The Walking Dead or The Strain. If so, that would ultimately be a waste.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-LV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 9PM on FOX.


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