May 21, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Wayward Pines”


A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on WAYWARD PINES:  Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), on a mission to find colleague (and former mistress) Kate Hewson, who’s been missing for several weeks, awakens after a car crash to find himself in Wayward Pines, Idaho, a small town that’s heavy on the creepy.  Menacing nurse Pam (Melissa Leo) threatens him with surgery without anesthetic, sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard) won’t give Ethan back his belongings, and although his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon), back in the real world, is concerned about his whereabouts, none of the voice-mails Ethan is leaving her are getting through.  Bartender Beverly (Juliette Lewis) seems friendly–but then why is the dead body of Kate’s partner in her house?  And there’s the timeline:  Ethan finds Kate, all right, but she tells him she’s been living in Wayward Pines for 15 years.  In case all that isn’t disturbing enough, Ethan discovers that the entire Wayward Pines region is encircled by a gigantic electric fence.

Episode 2:  In its second hour, Wayward Pines was already getting repetitious.  The episode, written by series creator Chad Hodge (working from novels by Blake Crouch) and directed by Charlotte Sieling, had Ethan go to all the same places he’d been to before–the hotel, the hospital, the sheriff’s office, the bar–and continue to knock his head against the town’s mysteries.  The lack of forward momentum left the viewer little to do but count the show’s blatant influences, which apart from the overwhelming desire to be Twin Peaks, include The Wicker Man and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.  (Shyamalan directed the opening episode and serves as a non-writing Executive Producer, but isn’t in the creative lead.)

Even within its own fantasy universe, Wayward Pines feels obvious and contradictory to the point of being silly.  It makes no sense that everyone in town is making such strenuous efforts to be “normal,” yet a threatening sign in the toy store where Kate works flatly warns all inhabitants against telling anyone about their pasts.  On the other hand, as the hour built toward an escape attempt that Ethan and Beverly were going to make, Beverly was so jittery and irresponsible that she was practically begging to be killed–which she was at the hour’s conclusion, the Sheriff doing the honors in front of the entire town.  (Although this is the kind of story where it would hardly be much of a surprise if Beverly turned out to be less than permanently dead later on.)

A series like Wayward Pines lives and dies by its sense of distinctive style, but no one here seems to have realized that.  The visual scheme is monotonously drained of color, and there’s none of the offbeat humor or sexiness that made Twin Peaks exciting to watch.  Only Melissa Leo seems to be enjoying herself, and Ethan himself is a grim hero, who isn’t given much dimension by the fact that he’d slept with Beverly (there’s certainly no heat between them in the present tense) or the constant reminders that he’d once suffered from hallucinations after blaming himself for allowing a terrorist bombing to take place.  The cliffhanging end of the episode had Ethan’s wife (and son!) making their way to Idaho so they can join in on the fun, not a thrilling prospect.

Only FOX knows why it chose to premiere Wayward Pines against the season finales of Scandal and The Blacklist, but the result was a difficult situation made worse, although the network boasted afterward of the Live + 3 DVR ratings the way parents try to convince neighbors that the “Most Improved” ribbons earned by their kids are something to be proud about.  FOX re-aired the first hour prior to the second, and will hope the numbers go in the right direction in Week 2, but truthfully, if the network had any kind of hope in the show, it wouldn’t have held Wayward Pines for a full year and then dumped it into the start of summer.  Ethan is likely to get out of his predicament long before Wayward Pines does.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Lots of Twin, No Peaks


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."