Hit or Sh**: USA’s EYEWITNESS
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**.
As I’ve learned time and time again, television seems designed to disappoint me, so I can’t say that I went into USA’s EYEWITNESS expecting much of anything at all. As a try-hard gothic folk tune (reminiscent of that horrific bar guitar from TRUE DETECTIVE’s second season) kicks off the pilot and we’re treated to several landscape shots colored in the most baffling of blues, I sighed, knowing I was in for another round of the wringer. And then, against all odds, the first act pleasantly surprised me; Hell, I’ll even go so far as to say that I was impressed. But alas, I am not one meant for good things in this world, and the rest of the pilot gazed maliciously into my eyes as it poured all of my hope and goodwill out onto the cold, unforgiving ground.
Based on a successful Norwegian series, the premise of EYEWITNESS is simple and to-the-point: Philip (Tyler Young) and Lukas (James Paxton) are in a cabin doing some things that would make conservatives mad when a gang arrives, intent on axing Ryan (Warren Christie), who they’ve locked in their trunk. The boys quickly hide, and witness a bloodbath wherein an undercover FBI agent frees Ryan, only for Ryan to go on and murder everyone in the cabin. Ryan’s about to send Philip to sleep with the fishies when Lukas knocks him over the head with a pan, allowing the boys to hurriedly escape. But what do you know, Philip’s foster mom Helen (Julianne Nicholson) is the cop assigned to the murder case, and the boys must now avoid the dangers of being the sole remaining witnesses.
While continuing to be straight as an arrow
I will even go so far as to call the first act “great.” All of the above information is succinctly and skilfully handled, and it’s a premise that is believably tense, if not necessarily likely to occur in most of our daily lives. However, what truly sets EYEWITNESS apart from its peers (at least initially) is the subtle, layered, and tender depiction of male homosexuality. Presented with all of the familiar awkwardness of sexual awakenings, EYEWITNESS deserves credit for making Philip and Lukas’s stumbling attempts at love and sex seem like the most natural thing in the world. In a world proliferated with exaggerated and often offensive portrayals of members of sexual minorities, it’s refreshing to see their coupling laid out before us in a humanistic and natural manner. The pilot does a commendable job of keeping their forbidden romance (Lukas’s father isn’t down with dicks) an appropriately tense subplot, culminating in a star scene wherein Philip tells Lukas he has too much self-respect to continue to sneak around with him. It’s impressive relationship writing that makes it appear as if the writers’ room was fully staffed for that reason and that reason only.
Apart from Philip and Lukas’s relationship, the rest of the pilot is handled so inadequately that it feels like an entirely separate show. I don’t know what dark magic was worked over the casting director, but every single adult in EYEWITNESS is laughably incompetent. Well, that’s not entirely fair: Julianne Nicholson gives it the old college try, but the dialogue is so stilted and wooden that it’s all she can do to come across as inoffensive. Her partner, Gabe (Gil Bellows), doesn’t skate by on similarly forgiving ice, with a strange inflection that is continually head-scratching (“BAbe come BAck tO BEd” is a close approximation), and one-liners that are sure to inspire groans (I never thought I’d hear a man of his age and complexion try to seamlessly integrate Drake lyrics into conversation). And then we have Sita Petronelli (Amanda Brugel). The wife of the undercover cop that was shot, Sita seems determined to never have a single character beat that isn’t turned up past 11, pulling a gun on a manager while holding a baby the first time we’re introduced to her, and screaming, hooting, and hollering each subsequent time we’re unfortunate enough to make her acquaintance. It would be one thing if we were made to care about the cop that was killed, but considering that he has a mere handful of lines before going off to the Great Gig in the Sky, Sita’s inclusion is loud, grating, and seemingly arbitrary.
Too soon for “nasty woman” jokes?
Poor acting aside, the plot simply shows no signs of progressing in a captivating manner. This is due in large part to the fact that Ryan, the ostensible antagonist of the show, is absent for the virtual entirety of the pilot after the first act, only emerging in an unbelievably stupid segment wherein he searches the homepages of local high school websites and miraculously finds the one that Philip and Lukas attends. Never speaking a word and seemingly only existing to grimace, glower, and grunt, I left the pilot more frustrated by Ryan than fearful. Without an antagonist, we’re left with several lengthy expository scenes involving Helen, her failing relationship with Gabe, and their attempted parenting of Philip, which is not what I care about when an escaped murderer may be gunning for two clandestine lovers. On that note, the pilot never makes a strong case for why Philip can’t just tell his police force parent what he saw. They attempt to field some half-baked reason involving Lukas’s dad getting mad that Lukas was up at the cabin with a boy, but I’d hope that his father would prefer his son to be gay instead of killed. In addition, as with many other shows, the writers have elected to portray members of the FBI as the devil incarnate, and it makes absolutely no sense Kamilah (Tattiawna Jones) is so acidic towards Helen the first time their spheres of influence overlap.
Rushing to a dramatic and unprecedented conclusion involving some mysterious event that happened in 2007 that disgraced Helen’s career as an officer of the law, EYEWITNESS starts at a sprint but slowly limps its way past the finish line. Unless you’re a comprehensive student of homosexuality in pop culture and want to watch it for the Philip/Lukas subplot, there’s nothing here to warrant your attention.
EYEWITNESS airs on Sundays on USA