May 15, 2015

Channel Surfing: Wayward Pines - "Where Paradise is Home"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
Wayward Pines feels like a show that exists almost solely because of other trends. Whether it will be the success of supernatural noir like Sleepy Hollow or Gotham or the miniseries like Gracepoint, the show feels like Fox's recent show to try and fall into the success pattern of being slightly weird mystery. Of course, all of these shows are in some respects gambles that have paid off to differing levels of success. However, there's a lot of nothing special about the show from the outset because the comparisons are inevitable. The first moments are reminiscent of Lost. The tone is reminiscent of Twin Peaks. What exactly does this show have that's worth watching?
It has M. Night Shyamalan. Yes, his name has long become a joke thanks to series of bad directorial films. However, there is one sign of optimism to this all. He is a halfway decent producer. While the 2010 film Devil was largely reviled because of his involvement, it actually was a taut horror mystery that turned an elevator into a scary place to be. True, this doesn't compare to his later films such as After Earth, but it does show that in the right hands he is capable of making something unique and compelling. While he directed the first episode of this miniseries, he is only a producer on the remaining episodes. Now the question will be posed: will we be seeing more of After Earth or Devil in the weeks to come?
For now, he does a decent job of establishing his universe. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) winds up in a weird town where a series of events happen. He meets a woman (Juliette Lewis), a cop (Terrence Howard), and ends up in unnecessary surgery. These are perfect elements to establish that something is off. As he tries to leave, he discovers that he is in a circular city that has no way out. It is a cozy city, but as various flashbacks would suggest, he has a life to get back to. The episode pretty much is about setting up the tone with occasional dives into macabre imagery and some random weird guy. It raises questions, arguably the only thing that Shyamalan gets respect for nowadays. 
The question from here is whether or not the show itself will be worth watching. As stated, the only real thing that has been established so far is tone. If the first episode of any series' job is to grasp the audience in for the long haul, the show mostly pats their shoulder and suggests that it might be worth a shot. This isn't a bad thing, but the show immediately has trouble differentiating itself from the rich history of weird mysteries. Even the general conceit feels derivative of Shyamalan's The Village at a point. There isn't any disastrous moment that makes the show awful, but compared to other supernatural shows like The Strain or Penny Dreadful, it doesn't have a defining moment that makes you want to stick around.
With that said, the episode does have something in Dillon's performance, who plays the noir detective-style role with ease. His revelations drive the story in an intriguing way and allow the tone to feel more omnipresent. He acts well with the various characters, who are more archetype than interesting at this point. So the question about Wayward Pines remains that what is the long term goal that separates this from other "limited" network series like Under the Dome, which was also about claustrophobic cities? How soon until things simply go awry in terms of quality?
For what it's worth, Wayward Pines has a fine debut and a fine cast. It doesn't drag for the most part and raises some questions. They may not be all that interesting, but they're there. It will be a tough call on if you want to stick with it, considering that shows like True Detective will be returning in a few weeks to fill our mystery miniseries quota. It could simply be a slow start episode. It's not entirely clear. However, the show is going to have to establish something far more interesting next week to keep audiences on board. If the critics give any implication, it will get better even if it never gets great.
Wayward Pines has some charm, but not too much personality yet. It feels like a stock mystery noir show that has that familiar twist. Maybe when we learn more about Ethan, the show will get to its core. Still, the miniseries has 10 episodes to tell a cohesive story. One can only hope that in that time it will start picking up the pace and doing something of memorable value. Otherwise, this show isn't pulpy enough to be a guilty pleasure nor personable enough to be engaging. It lies in a middle ground that is weird without depth. One can only hope that this so-so episode is only exposition and not a clue to what this show's future looks like.

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