“Welcome to Wayward Pines, where paradise is home.”
The louder a fictional small town shouts about being heaven on Earth, the higher the probability that it is in fact, an axis of evil. As a rule, if the town sign features a beaming family and a cheery slogan, you’ll be lucky to make it to sundown without being kidnapped, cannibalised or nominating your severed spine for xylophone duty in the local school’s ossuary orchestra.
(It’s all a matter of irony. Small towns with dark secrets love irony in a town slogan. It gives them a pleasant break from all that ritualised murder and alien probing.)
Joining the likes of Woodbury, Trinity, and the daddy of them all, Twin Peaks, is Wayward Pines, the enigmatic setting for a glossy new Fox mystery thriller. Wayward Pines’ town sign declares it to be “where paradise is home”, which should be enough to start alarm bells ringing in even the most trusting mind.
We’ve taken a look at the show’s first few episodes, and here’s a spoiler-free rundown of reasons you might want to do the same…
The 90s were a safer place than the world of today. They were a place of Cadbury’s Fuse bars, Jarvis Cocker wafting his bum at Michael Jackson at the Brits, and hair mascara. Val Kilmer was still in things. Screech from Saved By The Bell was still a loveable innocent. We knew what Snoop Doggy Dogg’s current name was, and we all made brilliant jokes about it, all the time.
That’s why part of the attraction to Wayward Pines is the 90s-nostalgia-fuelling combination of Matt Dillon and Juliette Lewis. Their faces are shorthand for a specific period in US cinema, one that gave us Drugstore Cowboy (1989, but still), Singles, There’s Something About Mary, Wild Things, Natural Born Killers, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?and more. Yes, they’re older, and yes, at moments their dialogue may feel like watching an early Resident Evil cutscene, but the important thing is that they take us back to a simpler time.
If those two aren’t enough, then Wayward Pines’ cast also welcomes both Det. Howard and Det. Kellerman from Homicide: Life On The Street, and Carla Gugino from Spin City and Chicago Hope. Close your eyes and you can almost smell the Y2K anxiety in the air.
Who doesn’t love Toby Jones? We love Toby Jones. Have you seen him in The Detectorists? He’s great in that.
It’s never the same show twice
Everyone agrees there are too many TV shows around these days. Polish off one box-set and three more spring up in its place, reproducing at the rate of cellophane-wrapped Tribbles. There simply isn’t time for them all.
Enter Wayward Pines, which at any one time feels like watching at least two entirely separate shows simultaneously. Don’t tell me that’s not efficiency in action.
What’s more, roughly four or five episodes in, the original two shows you were watching splice into a whole new show, and who knows, that process may continue until the season finale by which time we’ll all basically be David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, watching multiple screens and pulling off our own fingernails.
If Under The Dome makes too much sense for you
Seriously, it gets weird. At one point Juliette Lewis’ character says, “The more you see, the less anything makes sense in this town,” which could easily double up as the DVD strapline.
There’s a creepy nurse
And a creepy sheriff (Terrence Howard). And a creepy toymaker (Reed Diamond). And a creepy barmaid (Juliette Lewis). And a creepy teacher (Hope Davis). And a creepy receptionist (the brilliant Siobhan Fallon). Basically, the Venn diagram of Wayward Pines residents and people who are creepy is a circle.
The nurse, played by Melissa Leo, is an early favourite though. You can’t beat a Nurse Ratched-type.
M. Night Shyamalan is executive-producing and directing
It’s so common for critics to sigh over M. Night Shyamalan’s recent cinematic missteps that you could be forgiven for thinking “once-promising” is his given name. The work of someone whose career hit such highs and such lows in such a short space of time though, is never not interesting to follow. We know we can expect commitment to (possibly insane) ideas, and we know that our expectations will be confounded at some point in the game.
Speaking of which, episode five, the midpoint of Wayward Pines, is tantalisingly entitled The Truth, so you at least have to watch that far.
If you enjoy watching people play action-adventure videogames
Honestly, this isn’t snark. Modern action-adventure videogames are captivating but stressful things. If you, like me, can’t be bothered to learn the complex finger gymnastics required to reload the torch batteries in Alan Wake in enough time to defend myself from whatever’s attacking, there’s a simple solution: sit and watch someone else do it. Watch them drive to the widow’s house to question her about where she was on the night of the murder. Watch them realize they have to return to the Sheriff’s office because they forgot to pick up the crucial bit of evidence the first time around. Watch them locate useful knapsacks and maps featuring convenient notation on them, then engage in end-level boss fights. It’s so much more relaxing.
Being a videogame spectator isn’t an entirely passive choice either. People watching people playing action-adventure games can help by shouting important suggestions at stressful moments (“Pick up that thing! No! The other thing!”, “They’re killing you! Why are you letting them kill you?!”).
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that in the best possible way, Wayward Pines feels a bit like that. It’s a good-looking, entertaining, but not especially demanding way to spend an hour. You’ll want to keep (watching someone else) playing, but if you fancied doing a crossword at the same time, you’re also golden. Everybody wins.
So you can say “Twin Peaks was better”
Why do any of us watch anything? So we can sniff, cross our arms against our chest, tilt our heads to one side and deliver the four words all TV snobs have tattooed over our hearts: “Twin Peaks was better.”
Wayward Pines starts tonight, Thursday the 14th of May, at 9pm on Fox.