The After pilot review
From The X-Files creator Chris Carter comes The After, one of Amazon's clutch of 2014 pilots...
This review contains spoilers.
For years, television networks have tried to recreate surprise hits by replicating the formula. For example, networks have been trying to find another Lost since Lost went off the air. Feel free to substitute Fringe in for Lost as necessary. However, one of the first shows I remember drawing that sort of attention was The X-Files. For awhile, everyone tried to have an X-Files clone, and no one was able to capture that properly, not even Carter himself.
Fortunately, The After doesn't seem like it's trying to capture the X-Files vibe so much as it's trying to be the show Under The Dome promised, yet failed to deliver. Normal people caught in an abnormal situation, just trying to survive while the world around them falls apart at the seams. In that way, I guess it's Chris Carter's version of a Revolution or a Walking Dead, except we don't bypass the breakout event, we jump right into it as the episode ticks along.
Gigi (Louise Monot) is a struggling actress who leaves her home in New York, flies out to LA, and auditions for a role in a big movie. Of course, since she's really attractive, they want her to play the twenty-something drug-addict prostitute involved in a threesome relationship, not the cold-blooded assassin role she covets. Disappointed, she returns to her lush hotel (she must be a successful actress in New York to afford something that nice) and finds herself caught in both a police manhunt and in an elevator. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, it turns out the world's also going to end.
The development of the big catastrophe, vague as it is, is developed pretty steadily along the course of the hour, with Chris Carter showing a fine hand as a director. He's able to capture a lot of the feelings of fear and paranoia and nervousness without having to spend a lot of budget to do so. He does some great work with a huge cast of extras, and the few effects that he employs to portray the fan meeting the feces are surprisingly solid. Mostly, it's the crowd that makes it work, screaming, panicking, surging, crushing people who fall... that's really the scary part of any huge disaster; big masses of people are dangerous and troubling, and whoever was responsible for wrangling the extras and getting them to react as needed deserves a bonus. The nightmarish cold opening is also impressively executed.
One of the downsides of The After being developed for the Internet rather than a broadcast television network is the fact that Carter seems to go a little overboard in providing the expected content that no network censor would allow. In particular, the script seems to be unexpectedly heavy on obscenities. Normally, I'm not one of the people who is sensitive to that sort of thing, but it still ended up sticking out to me anyway. It felt like Carter wrote the dialogue, then when he realized it was going to go to Amazon, then he went back and added cursing just to make sure he had his quota of edgy material. (The nude scene, usually the first thing added to enrich a pilot and grab eyeballs, ends up being important to the material presented, so I can give the boobs a pass.)
However, I do like the assembled core of characters. Louise Monot is really good in the lead role, despite the thickness of her accent. The characters seem like they'll yield the right amount of tension for a group dynamic, assuming the show gets picked up for a full season, and I have to admit to being really surprised by the performance of Jamie Kennedy thus far. It's hard to really show up in a single episode and impress, but I like the few layers he was able to bring in a short amount of screen time. Other characters, like the lascivious alcoholic McCormick (Andrew Howard) and the angry, wrongly-accused convict D. Love (Aldis Hodge), are pretty one-note and follow fairly expected patterns, but there's always room to grow; Tammy the escort (Arielle Kebbel) seems like she could really grow from her stereotypical introduction and sans-bikini swim.
Still, this is a Chris Carter joint, and Chris Carter's work is only as good as its scare potential. This show looks like it has a lot of that. The elevator is bad enough, and as opening impressions go, Gigi's first step out into the chaos of LA, revealing thousands of people milling around, stalled traffic, and some great helicopter shots/crane shots showing the expanse of crowd is one that'll linger in the audience mind. The whole forest sequence is pretty good, too, especially the reveal of the mysterious shadow creature covered in tattoos, dislocating all its limbs, and skittering off into the darkness.
I have to admit, even if The After doesn't get picked up for a series, I really enjoyed the pilot. It's bumpy at times and feels too busy at some points, but by and large, it remains interesting, suspenseful, and creepy when it's expected to be so. It's nice to see Chris Carter back again, even if it's just to remind us all that he still has some cool ideas rolling around in his head.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan has been a busy participant in the Amazon Originals pilot program. He voted against the Zombieland spin-off series, and thankfully it worked. He'll be voting yes on The After. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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