Random Thoughts – Randocity!

TV Review: Wayward Pines

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on August 27, 2018

WaywardPinesNote: *** Contains Spoilers ***

Here’s yet another M. Night Shyamalan thriller, this time in the form of a two season TV series.  Let’s explore.

Comparisons

This show has a similar premise to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. However, it is based on novels by Blake Crouch. Basically, it’s a small town that’s been cut off from everything and everyone. As a result, the town must live by its own rules. These two premises pretty much match up.

The way in which the Wayward Pines diverges is how the plot unfolds. With Under the Dome we come to find that the town is encased in a huge dome that, when the dome wishes, allows some exchange of air with the outside. In the case of Wayward Pines, we come to find that it’s supposed to be set in the year 4028, after a great holocaust mutated the human population. Both Under The Dome and Wayward Pines have populations that are cut off from “the outside world”, but for differing reasons.

Both towns, however, fundamentally operate in very similar ways with the exception that Dome runs out of resources a whole lot faster since they were cut off from the world without any resource planning. The dome town’s resources wear thin much, much faster. Wayward Pines, on the other hand, has the benefactor, David Pilcher, who not only had foreseen this event, but seemingly planned for it well in advance by building infrastructure and storing limited food rations to sustain the small town. We’ll come to find that Pilcher didn’t quite think ahead much or have planned for all contingencies.

Characters

The Wayward Pines town is inhabited by a number of adults and children including a sheriff, a nurse, a doctor and several primary families who become part of the series. It’s a similar kind of makeup as there was in Under The Dome. There’s also a faction of disenchanted citizens looking to escape from the city… so they can get “back home”. The characters change over time, particularly in season 2.

Weak Opening Premise

The show starts off entirely on the wrong foot indicating the “making it up as we go” syndrome. Meaning, the show begins by making no sense. Burke wakes up near a creek, beat up, bruised and injured. The question is, why stage this 2000 years in the future? What purpose does it serve?

If he had just awakened from cryosleep, why take him out of his cryosuit, dress him back in business attire and place him in the woods? Is it simply stage his awakening as though he had just crashed from a car? Why not start the episode off with Burke in a hospital bed recovering from his car injuries. That’s just as easily explained and shows us the Wayward Pines hospital right from the start.

If they want Burke to accept his life in Wayward Pines, why spend that time and effort staging his awakening? Did they stage other reawakenings in this way? They didn’t do it for Burke’s wife and kid. Staging reawakenings like this also means that someone at Wayward Pines needed to be 100% up to speed on exactly how Burke (or anyone else) was abducted into cryosleep to know exactly how to restage the reawakening. There are so many better things to worry about in a burgeoning town than dealing with staged awakenings.

Trapped in the Past

As with the isolated town premise in Wayward Pines, I find that there are a lot of stupid ideas, particularly from the supposed creator of the town, David Pilcher. According to his telling, the first time Pilcher tried to set up Wayward Pines, he chose to reveal the 2000 year old truth to the residents. While the children seemed to accept their fate, the adults couldn’t face life in this way and eventually the town self-destructed. This forced Pilcher to commit genocide by using the indigenous mutated humans to clear the population. This idea is stupid from the go. If you’re trying to repopulate humanity from limited pool of people, why kill them? You’re going to need that genetic diversity to repopulate… as much of it as possible.

David Pilcher has his (very large) crew (including his sister Pamela Pilcher) clean up the town, only to reset it all and restart it for a second time with group B. For group B, instead of revealing the truth, this time Pilcher decides to only tell the children the whole truth and withhold that information from the adults. This led the adults to believe they are still in 2014 (or whatever time period they came from). It also meant the adults believed they could leave the town and get back to their families… the idea that would inevitably become the town’s undoing. This keeps the adults in the dark of the reality of the world. This second time up to bat, Pilcher decides to incorporate corporal punishment in the form of town center lynch justice as a means to control order in Wayward Pines. If someone gets out of line or breaks rules, they are summarily brought to town center and executed by slitting their throat in front of the town mob. This is called a reckoning.

Here’s where I dislike this plot idea, where I feel this part was entirely unnecessary and sent the story premise off the rails. Pilcher is indeed correct to be worried that his group B town is degrading into chaos and destruction, just has had group A. It is. There is an underground movement that is growing and sowing the seeds of a second town self-reckoning once again. However, the reason for this is primarily because of Megan’s ideas she fed Pilcher. Megan’s ideas were the poison seeds that fueled Wayward Pines’s destruction, every time. Megan is a cancer on Wayward Pines.

Cryonics and The Past

To give a bit of backstory here, Pilcher foresaw the destruction of the 2014 world due to a DNA mutation he found, a mutation that would lead to humanity’s destruction in the future. He tried to alert the attention of the scientific world, but failed. Instead, Megan Fisher (eventually becomes the teacher at Wayward Pines school), urges David Pilcher to take whatever means necessary to ensure survival. This was the primary piece of bad advice David Pilcher took in securing his vision and the piece of advice that single-handedly ensured Wayward Pines’s demise. Megan would go on to not only continue giving bad advice, but poison the children and jeopardize the entire project.

Anyway, Megan’s continual bad advice leads Pilcher (being all wealthy that he is) to use his great wealth to hire people to nab random folks off of highways and put them into cryosleep. One set of unwilling participants is our protagonist Ethan Burke, his wife Theresa Burke and his school age son Ben Burke (season 1). Ethan Burke was sent to the area by the secret service (?) to investigate the disappearance of two of his colleagues. Ethan becomes the eyes of the audience as the great mystery of Wayward Pines unfolds. Of course, the premise includes everyone else in Wayward Pines, who were all unwillingly abducted and cryofrozen. The only people willingly there are those that who David Pilcher hand picked to operate the mountain complex to keep Wayward Pines functional as a township.

The Philchers (Pam and David) call Wayward Pines the Ark.

Aberrations

In season 2, we find out more about the original awakening of group A via C.J. Mitchum. He was the advanced cryo engineer who was the first to awaken and who awakened group A. He was also the person who found the aberrations and alerted Pilcher to them. This is also where the story takes a bad turn. Instead of staying and killing off a bunch of indigenous humanoids, C.J. suggests heading back into the pods to wait more time for them to die off. In fact, there were so many ways this story could have been handled, Wayward Pines might have worked as a simple utopia. Pilcher decides not to wait… yet another dumb idea from someone who’s supposed to be very smart. Anyway, Pilcher clears the area and erects an electric fence.

Outside the electrified fence, the indigenous humanoids (called Abbys … short for aberrations) inhabit the countryside. They also inhabited the area where Wayward Pines has been built. This means that David Pilcher kicked them off of their land. The aberrations are the remnants of humanity left over after the DNA mutation and the event that David had predicted. The aberrations are vicious carnivores that eat any animal flesh they can find, including any 2014 humans that happen along the way.

However, we come to find in season 2 is that Pilcher cleared out the area where Wayward Pines was to built by killing all off the indigenous folks. This action effectively starts the war between the aberrations and the humans and ensures all of the problems for Wayward Pines going forward. A problem that could have been avoided had Pilcher taken CJ’s advice and waited longer.

Keep It Simple Stupid

The first problem I have with this premise is that Pilcher kidnapped folks without consent. He also didn’t vette them for suitability or compatibility for living in a utopia city project. He yanked them out of their life and put them into cryosleep. After unfreezing them in the year 4028, he has two options. Tell them their reality or make them think it’s still 2014. After all, the town looks like it did in 2014 so it’s not that hard to convince those who are unfrozen.

There are lots of reasons why this town won’t ultimately succeed. The primary reason it is doomed to fail is that these folks didn’t consent to be there, the problem treated by Megan. They still think it’s 2014 and they think they can leave and get back home. Yet, they are being told never to talk about that. That idea won’t work. You simply can’t tell people to suppress their desires to go back home to their families and loved ones. If he had explicitly kidnapped folks who didn’t have loved ones waiting, then perhaps he could have used that. David didn’t think the kidnapping idea through very well.

Another secondary reason why this township won’t work is limited food and medical supplies. While he did stockpile food to get the town started and maintain certain levels of conveniences like ice cream, liquor, fudge, toy shops, hair stylists and various amenities offered by the 2014 standards, that cannot possibly last. There is also simply not enough food resources to maintain a growing community of people. Pilcher also failed to foresee the need for medicines in the future. While he did bring some medicine forward in time, it simply wasn’t enough (season 2). Over time and with enough generations, there would be no way for 2014 humans to survive, particularly without access to modern medicines. It’s not like he also brought along a pharmaceutical company and people to run it.

This lack of foresight sows the seeds of destruction for any forced community at some point in the future. The corporate punishment only serves to double-down on this destruction by, along with microphones and cameras monitoring everything in the town, eventual dissent and violence. If David stays this course with each successive town reset and restart, he’ll eventually run out of people to inhabit the town. Thankfully, Pam puts a stop to that, but too late to really save Wayward Pines.

Survival

Even if there had not been any indigenous population to defend against, the community would still have failed. As I said above, Pilcher didn’t bring along enough medications, vitamins and food to last indefinitely.

If the town had been able to survive without the threat of attack, the population would have eventually overgrown the town. They would have had to either institute population controls or force people to leave and settle elsewhere. There were so many better and more horrifying story avenues than the aberrations, the aberrations simply ended up as a convenient copout distraction from all that was missing when actually trying to build a utopia.

Season 1 versus Season 2

Season 1 started out promising by offering hope that the town might survive and morph into something useful. By season 2, not only had the show jumped 3 years into the future, which robbed us of the internal struggles, we come to find that the first generation is now running the town. While this is a fairly stupid premise to begin with, it effectively turned the show into a Young Adult novel.

On so many levels for a TV series, this change doesn’t work. You can’t start out with adults running the show only to turn it into a teen fest. That, in and of itself, caused too many problems going from season 1 to season 2.

Additionally, season 2 introduces a lot of foreign concepts that take the show in a direction that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While I have not yet read Crouch’s novels, I’m assuming that the two seasons follow the novels to some degree. Ultimately, I can see why this show was not renewed after season 2. It just wasn’t strong enough of a premise to survive such jarring changes between season 1 and season 2. By jarring changes, I not only mean the survival concepts, but also the never ending cast changes, particularly the teen fest.

Overall

This was not a great show. It had a lot of promise when it began, but it quickly degraded into a story place that couldn’t work. Additionally, there were so many unaddressed mistakes made by Pilcher, these made the show’s story entirely weak. For example, where was the livestock? If you can cryofreeze humans, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze cows, pigs and chickens? They will need protein and vegetables as food sources… particularly if they’re to repopulate the earth.

Also, if Megan’s population birthing initiative was so all fired important, then why didn’t they cryofreeze a bunch of babies or pregnant woman to immediately restart the repopulation process?

Additionally in season 1, it was never addressed where all of the food was coming from or how much food there was. By season 2 and three years later, the town was already running out of food and needed to build farms to sustain the population. However, the valley soil where Wayward Pines is situated is supposedly tainted and cannot grow food with no real explanation of this. If food was an important thing to consider, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze some farmers and botanists? Also, why wasn’t this idea addressed in season 1?

Also, if Pilcher wanted his Wayward Pines town to thrive as a small town circa 2014 style, he must have packed enough rations to last for well more than 3 years. I’d suspect he’d brought along enough to last 10 or 20. If you don’t bring along enough rations to last 10 or more years, then why lure people in with all of the ice cream and hot dogs when in 1-2 years they’ll be starving or subsistence farming? Also, ice cream is made from milk. Where was the livestock to keep it all going? What about clothing? What about making cloth? What about growing cotton to make yarn to make cloth? What about sheep to make wool for winter clothing?

Clearly, the show’s writers weren’t thinking ahead. They might be able to blame some of this on Blake Crouch, but the show’s writers should have been able to read the book material, see the problems and fix them in the series. Overall, it’s a generally weak show that appears better than it actually is. It’s easy to see why it was cancelled after 20 episodes. In addition to being only half-assed in concept, the stories were simply not thrilling enough. The story needs a whole lot more thought and work.

↩︎

Advertisements

Remembering the 80s: Moonlighting

Posted in botch, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 24, 2018

MoonlightingIn 1985, Moonlighting began as a show TV viewers seemed to both love and hate. I personally became very fond of this show at the time. Today, it is simply a product of its time period. Let’s explore.

80s TV

After coming out of the 70s, where crime dramas tended to rule the roost, the 80s spawned more lighthearted comedy to balance out those 70s serials. In fact, the 80s spawned a lot of TV shows that are fondly remembered. One of these is the screwball romantic comedy Moonlighting produced by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Moonlighting hearkens back to screwball comedies of the 40s with a straight man (or woman) character Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) to the cuckoo character David Addison (Bruce Willis). At the time, Willis was an unknown. I’m sure the TV executives weren’t sure he could pull off the role at the time, but once the chemistry between Bruce and Cybill became palpable, all executive misgivings evaporated.

Moonlighting and Chemistry

Like Charlie’s Angels before Moonlighting, this cast was as tight on chemistry as they come. The on-screen chemistry between these two actors was amazing to behold. Unfortunately, what made the show a winner would also see to its demise. The quick and witty repartee between Maddie and David would become deeply symbolic of what went on behind the scenes. After the second season, the apparently deep and constant bickering between the two actors would ultimately end up in tabloids, tarnishing this series irrevocably. However, what ultimately did this series in was its writing, production in-fighting and Cybill’s pregnancy.

Biting off more…

The witty rapid fire repartee of the Moonlighting character dialogue wasn’t without peril. Oh, it was most certainly fun to watch. Apparently, each script required double the amount of written exposition found in a similar series. This meant writing double the amount of pages in a script. Effectively, each episode was two episodes worth of material. Instead of cranking out several episodes rapidly, writers were only able to produce half the number in the same period. Because of the quick witty interrupting repartee, sometimes with Maddie and David talking over one another simultaneously, this would only serve to delay how quickly an episode could be shot.

At the time, it was said that it took upwards of sometimes 10-14 days to complete one episode of Moonlighting when most series with half the dialogue took about 5-7 days.

For both filming and writing reasons, trying to reliably release one episode per week was a chore for the Moonlighting team. This meant that episodes didn’t reliably show up every week. Usually there was a rerun in between new episodes. This also meant you’d never know if the show that week would be a rerun or a new episode until it showed up in TV Guide. This didn’t happen during season one and two because these seasons had many episodes in the can by the time the show aired. However, once the series airings caught up to the currently filmed episode, they never could get ahead again.

For a viewer, this unknown led to a lot of disappointment after finding out that this week’s episode was a three or more weeks old rerun. That’s not to say that those episodes weren’t funny, but they were way too recent to rewatch. This problem stagnated the series and was Moonlighting’s first blemish. More blemishes would show as time progressed. Though, the reruns were helpful if you missed that episode.

First Two Seasons

For the first two seasons of this series, which encompassed a total of 24 episodes (6 in season one and 18 in season two), the series kept its chemistry entirely on track. The writers kept Maddie and David in check and at just the proper distance from one another as Maddie constantly played hard to get. The constant keeping-David-at-arms-length premise kept the sexual tension at just the right level. It’s what kept people coming back week after week to see if Maddie finally gets together with David. Between the magic of the witty repartee and keeping David and Maddie at arm’s length, this was the show’s mojo. However, the witty rapid dialog and sexual tension began to wear a little thin by season three. Viewers wanted to finally see David and Maddie get together. Careful what you wish for.

Season Three

In Season three, when Maddie and David finally hook up in the episode I am curious… Maddie, the series deflates like a balloon. That episode singlehandedly took the wind out of the sails of Moonlighting. Not only did the sexual tension vanish, the constant rumors of the on-set fighting between Cybill and Bruce began appearing in tabloids and only served as a major distraction to the series. This coupled with Cybill’s real life pregnancy and Bruce’s leave to be in Die Hard left the series in a quandary:

  • Incorporate the pregnancy into the show or go on without her
  • Go on with or without Bruce

This is also where the actor’s real lives intruded into the production of this fine series. This season also marks when the series ran off the rails.

Season Four

At this point in the series, had I been the producer, I might have opted to create episodes with other characters while Cybill takes maternity leave if Bruce had been available. However, because both lead actors were otherwise tied up with outside commitments, the choice should have been to delay any further production of the series. The network apparently didn’t want this which led to a bad decision.

After the series introduced Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) as more than just a charming rhyming receptionist and brought in Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) as her love interest, the series tried expanding on these two characters in their own episodes while waiting on Bruce and Cybill to be available. This really didn’t work. Beasley and Armstrong had very little on-screen chemistry leaving the episodes flat and boring. Beasley was charming as the rhyming receptionist role, but she wasn’t in any way able to carry the series in an expanded role. Neither could Armstrong. Together, they simply had no chemistry together nor were the characters leading character material. They simply could not carry this series.

By this point, I felt that the series was way offtrack. At the time, I knew it was only a matter of time before Moonlighting was cancelled. Not only was the sexual tension lost, the series began focusing on forgettable side character arcs that didn’t matter. This all happened simply because the two lead actors were unavailable. You can’t run a series when your leads are missing in action. While I understand Cybill’s pregnancy, I can’t understand why the series allowed Bruce Willis to sign a contract to be in Die Hard while the series was still in production. This just makes no sense.

Without its leads, the series should have taken a hiatus. Coupled with the slow shooting schedule, the longer than typical scripts, the show just couldn’t make any headway. If this had had a normal filming schedule, they could have put a few (or many) episodes in the can in advance of both Cybill’s and Bruce’s departure and then had them to fill out the time slots when the actors were unavailable. Because of the size of the scripts, this was impossible. Though, they did get pre-work from Cybill before her maternity leave and before season four began. But, this pre-work was filmed before the full episodes were fully scripted or shot.

By the time Cybill went on leave with her pregnancy and Bruce was tied up with Die Hard, this meant that a lot of season four was created by the actors phoning in their parts. As stated above, Cybill had pre-shot her dialogue scenes separately which had to be worked into as yet uncreated episodes. Because the leads were never seen together in scenes, the series ratings continued to decline. You can’t exactly create sexual tension between two characters when they’re talking to each other over the phone and not in the same room.

The ratings didn’t improve when the series tried focusing on DiPesto and Viola in an attempt to carry the series. In season three, not only had Maddie and David come together and split, the series introduced Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) as Maddie’s new love interest. By season four, Maddie gets pregnant (assumed to be by Sam, but could have been David), thus integrating her pregnancy (and the unnecessary Sam character) into season four. It was a horrible plot choice, particularly the ambiguity of the father of the baby.

There’s no way faster to lose the hot model image than by knocking up your main character, particularly if by a transient and unnecessary character. This third character also transformed the series from a twosome into a threesome, which also didn’t work. The chemistry between these three did not work at all. This further served to degrade this series into a train wreck about to crash. Not only had Maddie and David gotten together and split forever, Maddie takes on a new boyfriend which is assumed she consummates that relationship with a baby. It was the wrong play. It added a new character dynamic at the wrong time into a series that least needed it. It also implied that Sam, not David, was the father of the baby. As well, having characters phoning in their parts didn’t make the episodes great. It would have been a better choice not to incorporate the pregnancy or Sam at all. The best choice was hiatus.

By halfway through the season, I’d grown tired of seeing stories about DiPesto and Viola and Maddie and Sam. The series was originally about the detective agency and the relationship between Maddie and David. We lost that when the series began focusing stories away from Maddie and David and more on other characters. The magic, at this point, was irreparably lost and the ratings continued to reflect that change in creative direction.

As for Maddie’s baby, just think what would have happened to the Charlie’s Angels ratings had one of the main characters gotten pregnant on Charlie’s Angels? That series would have tanked harder than when Farrah Fawcett left the series. The Charlie’s Angels story is about hot female detectives performing detective work. Not about rearing children or getting knocked up. Same for Moonlighting. Moonlighting was about a hot model owning a detective agency. It’s not about getting knocked up and rearing babies.

By season four, the writers had lost their way with the plots. This was in part because, according to the tabloids, the actors were not only fighting with each other, they were also fighting over what they were being paid. It was also in part because of the lack of their lead actor’s availability to film episodes.  It was also in part due to the writers strike. This led to poor story choices and a swirl of tabloid gossip.

Season Five

By this season and after the writers strike concluded, which cut short the final episode of season four, the writers and producers seemed to have realized the error of their ways with Maddie’s pregnancy and penned a season opener that sees Maddie miscarry and lose the baby. It was too little, too late. It was also a bad idea overall. Setting Maddie up to have a baby, see her carry it and then miscarry? This isn’t a topic for a comedy show. This topic on this show misfired. This is a detective show, not a home and family show. The damage was already done.

By season five, the show couldn’t get its mojo back for a number of reasons. The first reason is because of the lack of enthusiasm by the show’s stars. Bruce had further created a successful new franchise in Die Hard. Cybill now had twins and wanted out of the long working hours to be with them. The second reason is that the writing failed to go back to Blue Moon cases with Maddie and David in the office trying to rekindle the sexual tension spark with witty repartee instead of dealing with Maddie’s personal life. This change in show direction was due to Glenn Gordon Caron’s departure. The creative team was gutted. The episode that attempted to reignite the sexual tension spark failed and tanked the ratings further. Ultimately, season three showed it had entirely spent its mojo capital when it got Maddie and David together. Everything after that point couldn’t save the series from cancellation. If season four was the purchase of the coffin, season five nailed it shut.

Aresto Momentum…

Even still, the show did reach two more seasons after David and Maddie got together.  That’s respectable, but not necessarily unexpected. Some of the episodes in seasons four and five were okay, if not a little tired. However, the show still had a lot of momentum going into into the fourth season if only the actors had been available to shoot every episode and keep that momentum going. Unfortunately, Moonlighting just couldn’t withstand the turmoil, chaos and the cast unavailability. The series eventually succumbed to its ratings slump and the eventual loss of Glenn Gordon Caron, the series creator by season five due to a rift between Cybill and Glenn. That change in the creative team didn’t help the stories in any way.

The Fourth Wall

By the third season, the shows regularly opened with David and Maddie staring directly at the camera offering some kind of message. Usually the message existed simply because the show ran short on time and they needed to fill it. These messages made no bones about it. These show opening messages would become the first salvo in fourth wall breaking that the series would begin exploring.

Personally, while I didn’t mind the show openers, I didn’t want to see fourth wall breaks within an episode. It is what it is. The show would take this to the extreme in the final episode. The series ending in season 5 shows the crew breaking down the entire set while David and Maddie are still trying to play their detective character roles while the producer states that the show has been cancelled. It was somewhat funny to watch, but it really dissed the show. Sure, it’s fun for shows to poke fun at themselves, but this went way beyond what I thought was appropriate for a professional series.

Everything that went wrong with the series was pretty much summed up in the series closing episode by breaking down that set.

A product of its time

Moonlighting was cute, funny and endearing when at its best. It was a hot mess when at its worst. However, it was also a product of the 80s in which it was spawned. Time has not been kind to this series. Producers today reference this series as something to avoid when creating new productions. They simply don’t want to revisit what happened when Maddie and David finally got together. That single episode is now considered the poster child of what not to do with characters in a TV series.

Because Moonlighting never went into syndication in the traditional way, it simply hasn’t had the power of reruns on its side. I don’t think syndication would have helped this series much, anyway. Unlike I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, which saw continual and never ending reruns, Moonlighting never got that chance. It’s probably a good thing.

The series was fun to watch during its era, but today the show’s comedy and antics seem antiquated and pretentious. Where I Love Lucy is mostly timeless, Moonlighting is a time capsule out of time when watched today. This show was definitely a product of the 80s with its shoulder pads and dated hair styles and clothing. If you like 80s TV, it’s a must watch. However, if you’re looking for something modern and relevant, you won’t find that in Moonlighting. The stories are definitely dated to its era.

If you really want to watch this series at its absolute best, I suggest watching seasons one and two and season three up to I am curious… Maddie and stop there. The last episode of season 5 is fun to watch if for no other reason than to watch the cast break through the fourth wall. Though, you can watch season four and five, don’t expect much from these two final seasons. Season three is ultimately where the series should have ended.

↩︎

%d bloggers like this: