Two episodes were provided for reviewing purposes prior to broadcast.
This May brings along the five year anniversary of the Lost series finale. The amount of shows that have launched in the wake of the ABC juggernaut, and subsequently failed to capture its magic, are innumerable. There have been surprisingly good tries (the second season of Revolution) and colossal failures (Persons Unknown, indeed), but by-and-large it appears most everyone has come to the same conclusion: it’s time to stop trying. And that’s okay. Television is nothing if not malleable, and just as the influx of gruff anti-heroes rose to power following Breaking Bad (and, really, The Sopranos), we’ve seen fewer and fewer as the Los Pollos Hermanos gets smaller and smaller in our rearview mirrors.
Why mention all of this? Because the same appears to be happening with WTF-inspired sci-fi staples. Though a few exceptions pop up on networks like reminders of a bygone era (ABC’s own Resurrection, for instance), the trend, for a while, appeared to be dying down. But then FOX announced Wayward Pines, a 10-episode adaptation of “Pines” by Blake Crouch about a federal agent trapped in a trippy town who must solve a series of mysteries, including murders, in order to finally escape. The show’s own advertising says the words “Twin Peaks,” so don’t worry, it knows. But with FOX’s new series, the resurrection of Twin Peaks itself on Showtime (maybe?), and HBO’s promising J.J. Master of Mystery Abrams-produced Westworld, it appears that crazy, twisty, pseudo-science fiction shows aren’t just back: they may actually be good again.
Beginning with an eye-opener of an homage that any Lostie will recognize, we’re thrown into the mix with Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), stumbling through the woods after a car accident strands him nearby the sleepy hamlet of Wayward Pines, Idaho. He awakes in a hospital whose sole employee appears to be a menacingly peppy nurse named Pam (played with perfect seriousness that only Melissa Leo could pull off) and begins wandering aimlessly about town, trying to recover his missing belongings in order to reach his family back home. The show is a bit flash-back heavy in its opening hour, but peppers in character hints and beats with a show-don’t-tell approach that feels increasingly clever, despite cliche.
Turns out Burke is a bit of a cad, and he’s been cheating on his wife Theresa – back home in Seattle with their son, Ben – with a younger, 27-year-old agent named Kate (the definitely-not-27-years-old Carla Gugino). As Ethan stumbles around town from business-to-business, he meets an increasing rotary of quirky individuals. There’s Beverly, barkeep at the local pub (or is she?! – the show gleefully orchestrates halfway through the first hour) and eccentric chief of police Arnold Pope, who seems to have a fetish for Rum Raisin ice cream. They’re played by Juliette Lewis and Terrence Howard, respectively, both acting like the scripts they were given were made out of a rare Peruvian chocolate, gorging on, then savoring each whack-a-do, yet hilariously enjoyable line.
And they only begin to round out a splendidly game cast, ranging from Captain America‘s Toby Jones as the perennially-cast evil doctor to the always-great Siobhan Fallon as an implacable secretary to Matt Dillon himself, as the straight-faced, serious-voiced Agent Burke. They lend the material, which, let’s face it, is some pretty recycled, silly stuff, much needed heft. Alhough Wayward Pines practically builds itself as a framework of references to other, arguably better shows – you can practically hear Kyle MacLachlan sipping on that damn fine cup of coffee every time Howard shows up with a half-eaten ice-cream cone – the amount of hilariously over-qualified actors willing to revel in its absurdness lends the show an immediate likeability right out of the gate.