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Despite a promising storyline, Shyamalan’s latest venture falls flat.

 

 

What do you think of when you hear the name M. Night Shyamalan? Does your body instantly shiver as flashbacks of films that destroyed your dreams come to mind? Just when you thought you would never hear that name again, he’s back, this time with TV vengeance.

 

 

After destroying our entire film hopes and dreams (never forget The Last Airbender), Shyamalan is taking a crack at TV with the Twin-Peaks inspired Wayward Pines based on the book trilogy of the same name by Chad Hodge; filled with a mystery disappearance, creepy nurses, grey skies and the comforting sounds of Terrence Howard’s trembling voice.

 

 

The mysterious show stars Matt Dillon as Ethan Burke, a Secret Service agent who goes looking for his missing partner, who somehow crashes into a quaint little town of Maine. All isn’t what it seems as Burke discovers there’s more than what lies at the surface of this town and people aren’t who they claim to be, including his former partner (Carla Guigino) who is now trapped as a Stepford Wife.

 

 

Pines had the opportunity to take noire to the next level by impressing us with so many different tools, but left in the hand of Shyamalan, it’s further proof he should never be allowed on any set, not even working in catering.

 

 

The premise itself welcomes potential to be a great psychological thriller, which seems to be lacking in the Fox TV lineup at the moment (sorry to The Following but you dropped the ball a long time ago). However, this show is cluttered with problems within the first ten minutes.

 

 

Apparently, the writers have never heard of the phrase, “show, don’t tell,” where true craftsmanship and storytelling involves the viewer experiencing the show through their own senses rather than being told what to feel. The goal is not to drown the viewer in heavy-handed adjectives, but to allow the viewer to interpret events on their own.

 

 

At every moment and in every scene, the viewers are told what to feel and how to think. The landscape is mountainous and ominous, the lighting is dark, dreary and depressing; obviously the director wanted to top Man of Steel…bring on the Paxil. The atmosphere is weighed down in hues of grey and cascading fog. The townspeople are devoid of life; even the children knowing they will amount to nothing are depressing to look at. This is a place where happiness goes to die. Then there’s the overwhelming theme of the supernatural, where every sound is underscored with the dramatic.

 

 

Pines is simply suffocating, stifled, amateur, unfocused and confusing. The show would have served better if the action was trapped inside the small town, instead of switching between Maine and Seattle, where Burke’s wife (Shannyn Sossamon) is with their children. This shift in storyline makes no sense, as if the writers were trying to rush an entire plot into one scene. The beauty behind what could have been is Burke’s constant paranoia and terror; his ability to constantly live inside his head, not knowing what is real or figments of his imagination. If the pilot episode stayed in one location, the audience would have felt trapped alongside him, naturally increasing the fear. Instead of allowing for the opportunity for some unsettling moments to sink in, the audience is presented with straightforward facts, from the beginning: what is real and what isn’t. This harms the show going forward and just leaves the audience wondering, “Why am I still watching this?”

 

 

Writing 101 would have taught the writers it’s imperative to establish the tone and the mystique of the show first, a lesson that clearly fell on deaf ears. By rushing an entire season’s worth of material into one episode, the writers force-fed the audience their emotions, making the characters less desirable and likeable. If the time was taken to slowly build the show, it could have resulted in effective flashbacks that bled into the narrative, instead of feeling like an entirely separate piece that relies too heavily on a disjointed final twist.

 

 

Wayward Pines truly makes a mockery out of its actors and robs the audience of any in-depth character building. The lack of empathy makes the audience, who try to emotionally invest in the show, give up and just stop caring.

 

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Melissa Leo, who is truly the show’s shining star, is forced to overact her role to the point of hilarity. Nurse Ratchet has nothing on Nurse Pam, who looks like she’s been struggling with her own mental breakdown as she chases Burke down the hall with a needle, shoes frantically click-clacking every step of the way. Leo plays the character like a caricature, begging for the audience’s attention. Every line is delivered with a sense of urgency and, just in case you don’t know, she’s the villain; the musical score that follows her makes sure nothing goes unnoticed. Her talent, and the reason for awarding her the Oscar (The Fighter), are completely forgotten in less than sixty minutes. It’s hard to tell if Leo is a victim of her environment or if this was a personal acting choice. One cannot deny that she delivers a standout performance; however, the reason why she stands out is not something that should be commended.

 

 

Terrance Howard as the town’s sheriff does what he knows best, which is to fade into the background, taking echoes of his Parkinson’s sounding voice with him. His role is completely useless and forgettable, making one wonder if he’s just there to collect a paycheck. The sheriff has the potential to for a larger role, possibly bridging Burke with the mysterious townspeople, but given Howard’s questionable acting skills the underdevelopment of this character is probably for the best.

 

 

Then there’s Matt Dillon, who seems to be trapped in a series in which he doesn’t belong. He is quite the leading man, but this is not the show he should be leading. Dillon has always come across as a likable, multi-layered, intelligent actor who can carry any role with finesse. The mere fact he never was a leading man in a television show is the detriment to us all. While he is doing his best with the material that was given to him, he appears lost and exhausted as if prepared for the role by watching all of Shyamalan’s films. This role doesn’t serve any purpose in his career and, unless the show improves, it should be eradicated from his resume and the viewer’s memory.

 

 

The complexity of dealing with what is real and what could be all in Burke’s mind seems to fall on the shoulders of the local bartender, played by Juliette Lewis, but even her character sparks questions of distrust. Lewis, a true chameleon, doesn’t suffer from the same fate as Leo. She blends easily in and out of every scene with ease and enjoyment. Watching Lewis act, even when the camera is at extreme close-ups, offers small breaks from the madness and aggressive nature of the other actors who are trying to one-up each other with stereotypes of ineffective creepiness.

 

 

Looking beyond the acting, the first-grade writing and piss-poor excuse for the possibility of the supernatural, the most promising element of the show are the residents: how they came to that town and have they ever left could make or break the show. Depending upon if the writers don’t screw this up, it should be interesting to see how this pans out. It’s the one element that could give this show a tolerable supernatural vibe and could be its redeeming quality.

 

 

Wayward Pines, with time and proper guidance could get its act together. Let’s just hope they realize the error of their ways.

About The Author

Dana Abercrombie
Brand Manager

Former genius and a woman of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by her mystery, Dana Abercrombie has been watching since birth (yes birth...we did say "genius"). Despite her secret desire of wanting to give it all up to become a gorgeous billionaire, Dana is most passionate about films often times getting in many heated debates resulting in being thrown out of many gatherings. Despite having a degree in English AND Journalism (multi-tasking FTW!) from the University at Albany-SUNY, she is currently interested in perusing a degree at Yale Law School, because one should never give up on a dream of becoming a gorgeous billionaire...and knowing how to sue someone as a result of those heated debates.