Hit or Sh**: Freeform’s BEYOND
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
I have been hurt by television pilots before, dear reader, and considering that my last exposure to Freeform was DEAD OF SUMMER, I was fully expecting to be hurt again. Considering the network’s reputation, BEYOND’s less restrained promotional images, and the fact that its premise sounds like a watered-down and more family-friendly take on THE OA, I clicked on the 44-minute (another mark against it) pilot with trepidation. After an iffy opening segment, I then proceeded to be pleasantly surprised. The year’s television is still in its nascent days, but even though it’s not saying much, BEYOND is the best we’ve gotten so far.
Holden Matthews (Burkely Duffield) is a good ol’ American teenager, looking forward to moving into high school with his best friend, Kevin (Jordan Calloway), and getting to know all the older girls. On the night of a meteor shower, he and Kevin shimmy up the local water tower and indulge in some generic brand beer and as deep of a life talk as eighth graders can muster. That is, until Kevin’s older brother, Jeff (Jeff McArdle), arrives and demands payment for the beer Kevin stole. A scuffle ensues that has Holden running away. As he runs into a clearing a bright white flashes, and we cut to him waking up from a coma 12 years later.
“I’M OLE GREGGG”
Yeah, the first act ain’t that great. But as soon as Holden wakes up, things take a turn for the better. This is due in large part to the fact that everyone seems like they’re acting in something airing on a far more prestigious network. In the opening sequence we get a little bit of overacting from Holden’s younger brother, Luke (Jonathan Whitesell), but post-coma everyone’s nailing it, especially Holden and his mother, Diane (Romy Rosemont). Diane being informed of Holden waking up and talking to the doctors after the fact are scenes that belong on HBO or FX, and Holden looking into a reflective surface for the first time and seeing what time has done to him is emotionally evocative.
The first hospital scene is a highlight, but as we see Holden’s recovery whiz by in a montage, my hackles were raised once again for the malarkey that I expected. While it thankfully makes it until the last acts of the pilot to reveal what’s really going on, we begin to piece together that Holden has superhero-like powers, and that there are several people interested in him as a result. While some of this information is delivered in legitimately interesting vessels for plot twists and turns (the doctor’s office is broken into and ransacked, Holden reunites with Kevin only for us to later see Kevin on the phone with a mysterious and dangerous-sounding voice), we also have to endure Holden’s visions, wherein a naked old man surrounded in fire makes ominous and vague comments about Holden unlocking his potential.
The dance scenes are also cool
I’m not sure how pilot writer and show creator Adam Nussdorf got a look into my sexual fantasies, but I can assure you that they belong nowhere near any of the more traditionally competent elements of the narrative. As for the introduction of Willa (Dilan Gwyn), I remain unsure. A grown up Luke takes Holden clothes shopping so that he doesn’t look like a child’s Gap ad from the ‘90s, and they run into Willa, a girl at the store who Holden wishes would be in his visions in lieu of the naked old man. After Holden’s stumbling attempts at courting her (although his pep talk from Luke hints that Holden may be sexually stunted since he never went through puberty, which would be a fascinating plot point to explore), she says that she already knows Holden before scribbling a warning to not trust anyone (quite literally underlined) before scurrying away. Holden, of course, looks at this message obviously written in permanent marker on his forearm several times after their encounter to ensure that he’s taken the message to heart. It’s a dubious potential meet-cute at best and rather silly at worst, but at least at the end of the pilot Holden tells Willa to leave him alone, although I have the funniest feeling that won’t last.
Luckily, the last act is one of the pilot’s strongest. A guilt-ridden Kevin warns Holden that he has to leave immediately after his phone call with the mysterious antagonist, only for a man in a yellow jacket (Peter Kelamis) to appear and physically subdue both Kevin and Holden. In a harrowing segment I would have never expected from an ABC affiliate, Kevin is held at gunpoint and Holden is forced to demonstrate his powers in order to stop his friend from getting shot point-blank. Both the action choreography and special effects have care and attention paid to them, and it’s yet another example that every so often, the show actually makes a genuine attempt to impress you. But then Willa arrives to save the day, spouts more esoteric jibber-jabber at Holden, and then goes off to talk to the consciousness of the naked old man, so things end on a weaker note than they could have.
Are there better shows than BEYOND that you could be catching up on? Yes. Willa and the naked old man are concerning, and the show does occasionally get cutesy with its emotions. But there just might be something here. I will admit that this is due in large part to the fact that I came in with absolutely no expectations, but the show does have some hints of a fresh take, especially when it comes to the subtle ways in which it addresses Holden’s time spent in the coma (another quietly sad moment occurs when Holden has no idea what anyone is talking about when Apple products are brought up). Combined with the surprising willingness to show violence, I’m going to leave the back door open for BEYOND to impress me.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
BEYOND is available to watch in its entirety on Hulu