By Ray Flook
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume that, based on what’s been released about Wayward Pines (based on the best-selling novel Pines by Blake Crouch) so far, that M. Night Shyamalan is a HUGE fan of Twin Peaks. The similarity in theme is right there: “a federal agent in a small town tucked away in the woods, finding himself having to navigate a town of odd characters and deep secrets to solve an over-arching mystery…all the while trying to maintain his own sanity.” Even the preliminary photos released by FOX gave you a sense that the show would have a bit of a Lynchian visual to it.
So with that in mind, I was curious to see if their SDCC panel (Wayward Pines: World Premiere Screening of Episode One and Q&A with Cast Members and Executive Producers) would embrace the similarities or attempt to distance themselves from the conversation, looking to emphasize the show’s individuality. Beginning with a brief greeting from the panel’s moderator, Rob Moynihan (TV Guide), the audience was screened the first of what will be a ten-episode “event” series. Following the screening, a brief panel was held with cast members Matt Dillon, Melissa Leo, Toby Jones, Carla Gugino, Reed Diamond, Shannyn Sossamon, Tim Griffin, and Charlie Tahan; director/executive producer Shyamalan; writer/executive producer Chad Hodge; and executive producer Ashwin Rajan.
(I kept a running written commentary going during the screening, trying to straddle the line between giving you a sense of how the episode progresses and spoiling the entire thing. Here’s hoping it worked…)
*Only a few minutes in and so far, the show comes across like a weird hybrid of Twin Peaks, Lost and Northern Exposure…with a side of The X-Files.
*Dillon’s “Agent Ethan Burke” and Juliette Lewis’ “Beverly” have great chemistry together…very old-school noir from two actors who’ve grown-up in front of the camera. I usually run very “hot/cold” when it comes to Lewis’ performances, but I like what she’s been doing over the past few years…and she’ll always have a special place in my heart for starring in the under-rated Strange Days.
*Terrence Howard’s “Sheriff Arnold Pope” does “menacing” very well…he even makes eating an ice cream cone menacing. In a town filled with people who seem out-of-place…he seems REALLY out-of-place.
*Didn’t see THAT coming…wow! If this is any sign of how the series is going to go, people worried about the show stretching-out the answers (a la Lost) can probably start relaxing now…
*Ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Toby Jones (“Dr. Jenkins”)! Jones is one of those actors who changes your entire thought process on a story the moment he walks on screen. I’m going to play it safe and assume he’s not there to help…
*“It’s just a town.” From a practical standpoint, FOX has a ten-episode commitment to the series so we know that line’s not true. For the sake of the storyline, it’s petty creepy (and would make a great tag line for a poster).
*Whatever this ends-up being, it’s definitely NOT Twin Peaks. I’m just going to say this: I’m pretty sure fans of Patrick McGoohan and ’60’s British cult television will be interested in where this goes…
*Melissa Leo’s “Nurse Pam” can out-ratchet “Nurse Ratchet”. Ouch. I feel like Wayward Pines is going to do for Leo what American Horror Story did for Jessica Lange…and vice-versa.
*All roads lead to Wayward Pines…be seeing you! We get the merging of the two worlds a helluva’ lot earlier than I expected…the revelation isn’t so much a surprise as is how quickly we find out about it, and could make for a very interesting side-narrative to the main action.
Overall: As someone who hasn’t read the book that it’s based on, I found the first episode to be well-paced, well-written and well-directed. The performances are exactly what you would expect from a cast of this caliber; and at the pace they’re giving viewers answers/explanations, I’m expecting the action to continue building pretty quickly. That said, Wayward Pines feels like one of those shows that should keep to a ten-episode run and not run the risk of diluting the overall product. If the initial episode is indicative of the rest of the run, the show would be better served to end as a complete story instead of becoming the very thing many people believe Under The Dome has become: a show that’s over-stayed its welcome, with no clear sense of story or direction. I know that Pines is intended to be a book trilogy, but we know from shows like True Blood and Dexter that the books don’t often set the tone for television.
(SIDE NOTE: If studios and networks are going to screen episodes at conventions, then they definitely need to allot more than an hour for the presentations. As was the case with the Constantine panel (EMBED: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2014/07/30/so-about-that-new-constantine-pilot-at-san-diego-comic-con-with-brief-teases-from-david-s-goyer/), by the time the screening was finished and everyone was announced, there was only enough time for a few brief, general comments from director/producers and a couple of cast members before they were escorted out to their network booth. There was no time for an audience Q&A and I really believe that hurts the impact of these panels overall because they end-up coming-across as nothing more than glorified infomercials. You lose your ability to connect with the audience in a personal way; and at a time when there’s a ton of competition for “geek eyeballs,” that’s an essential element of any effective promotional campaign. While they didn’t screen an episode during their panel, I have to give credit to Sleepy Hollow‘s cast, writers and producers for being very open and honest with their audience and engaging in some truly interesting and entertaining exchanges with audience members. I had never watched an episode of Sleepy Hollow (or even cared to) before that panel, and now I want to binge-watch it before the new season starts. That’s the kind of power a quality panel/Q&A can have if done right, and something that shows like Wayward Pines and Constantine desperately need as they struggle for “geek cred.”)
*Only about seven minutes left for any type of panel/Q&A, but nice to see that most of the cast was able to make it out for the panel and other FOX promotional events.
*Shyamalan announces to the crowd that this is his first time ever attending SDCC, either as an attendee or to promote a project. When Moynihan asked about the show’s long-term connection with Crouch’s Pines, Shyamalan emphasized that the show will go “well beyond the book” and that the audience will begin getting answers very early-on.
*Cast members gave very vague, and general comments regarding their characters…clearly trying to avoid giving-out any more information than they need to this soon before the premiere. Shyamalan did share with the audience that Howard asked him to not tell him where the show and his character are going long-term, that he wants to keep the element of surprise to his performance.
*And that was it…no Q&A but the panel would be at the FOX booth later during the convention.
(Ray Flook has been a contributing writer to Bleeding Cool since October 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @oldmangeek88; “like” his Facebook page: Old Man Geek; and check-out his website: www.oldmangeek88.com)