TV Review: Wayward Pines

One of the latest “catchphrases” in the entertainment business is the so-called “Event Series”. This is an attempt to aggrandize a TV series that was so risky to produce that they decided to only make a few episodes as a sort of extended pilot. To justify the short order, they label it “an event” to make it sound like something special. Something that you absolutely have to see because it only comes along once in a lifetime.

Typically these event series have a sci-fi, fantasy, or horror theme. Some have even gone as far as to get this limited series order right off the page without even producing a pilot. The network apparently likes the high concept well enough that they want to throw together for 8 or 10 episodes and stick it on the schedule in the summer to see what happens. Recent examples have actually proved quite successful. The prime example is CBS series”Under the Dome” which will premiere its third season with a two-part episode on June 25. It was only supposed to run 13 episodes but it was so popular they rewrote the final episode to add a second and now a third season. The producers predict it will last five seasons. Also from CBS last season we had “Extant” which will begin its second season July 1.

Not to be outdone, Fox has entered the event series sweepstakes two weeks ago with the 10 episode event “Wayward Pines“. On the surface it looks like this was going to be an attempt to cash in on the renewed interest in “Twin Peaks” which became a cult classic for two seasons in 1990-91. The Showtime reboot of that series scheduled for 2016 seems to be a back on track now that they’ve settled there differences with director David Lynch. Both series deal with a federal agent investigating strange happenings in a small town in the Northwest. However Wayward Pines seems more like a cross between the 1967 cult classic “The Prisoner” and the 2010 Martin Scorsese film “Shutter Island” starring Leonard DiCaprio.

In Wayward Pines we have the story of US Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke played by Matt Dillon. The show opens with him awakening after a car crash and finding himself small town Wayward Pines Idaho. Through a series of flashbacks we learned that he is a Secret Service Agent blames himself for not catching a terrorist prior to a bombing which killed hundreds of people. We learn that going back to work he had various psychotic episodes and hallucinations. Thus we get the Shutter Island effect wherein we don’t know whether or not what we are seeing is for real or if they are showing us the character’s delusions or hallucinations. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that Wayward Pines is in fact a prison where he is being constantly watched and everyone is acting in fear of whoever is running the place. Thus we get the connections to The Prisoner.

He was supposed to be investigating the disappearance of 2 of his colleagues. He finds one of them dead in the town. The other one is living a different wife under a different name. He makes friends with a waitress named Beverly played by Juliette Lewis. She attempts to help him come to understand “what’s really going on” in this strange place. She is sort of his guide and is the only person who’s willing to talk openly with him about their situation.

One of the strange characteristics of this town (apart from the fact that there are no crickets and the cricket noises you hear are made by tiny speakers hidden in the bushes) is that time seems to have stopped. For example the one female Secret Service Agent who has only been missing for weeks claims to have been in the town for nearly 15 years. Time seems to have frozen in the 1980s. Everyone believes Bill Clinton is the president. The dates on money (of which is counterfeit) is no newer than 1989. This is either more of the prisoner-like psychological games they are playing with the residents or there is some sort of actual supernatural aspect to this place like “Lost“. The “Lost” similarities leave me to be concerned that the entire thing is actually a purgatory like place and none of it is real.

Everything that we see in Wayward Pines is through the experiences of Agent Burke which makes the reality/unreal questions a constant concern for the viewer. However we do get to see Burke’s wife, children, and colleagues back in the supposed real world wondering where he went and why he is missing. The only character that crosses over between real-world home and Wayward Pines a guy named Dr. Jenkins was very creepily portrayed by Toby Jones.

Matt Dillon is credible in what is otherwise a literally incredible situation. The rest of the cast does a decent job as well trying to portray normalcy in an obviously abnormal situation.

The best thing I can say about Wayward Pines is that it is only 10 episodes. We can hope that by the 10th we know what’s really going on but I would say you need to be prepared for the possibility that you will not know. And if this limited event series manages to draw sufficient audience, we might even have to put up with additional seasons such as we are with Under the Dome and Extant.

If you are a fan of The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, Shutter Island and don’t mind and ending that may be in that being a mixture of Lost and Fight Club then you might want to check this out. The second episode aired last night but both should be available on demand. There’s not much else to watch right now except perhaps check out the new game show “500 Questions” which is mildly interesting. Worst case scenario is you have to wait for 2016 for the new episodes of “Twin Peaks. For now I’m writing this one “I’m watching” but then I’m kind of weird.