Given the success rate of serialized horror/mystery TV shows in this country, it's cute that a show still wants to be the next Lost. But you have to try, right? If you don't try, you may never hit on that magic combination that results in a hit. So I'm certainly rooting for the new NBC show Persons Unknown, which follows seven strangers abducted and placed in an empty hotel on an empty street in the middle of nowhere. Besides Lost, many are comparing it to The Prisoner, or an episode of The Twilight Zone, or an installment in the Saw horror movie franchise (the first episode is bloodless, but shots are fired starting next week). But they're also comparing it to last summer's 13-episode mystery Harper's Island -- not to mention this spring's already-cancelled Happy Town -- and I'm hoping it doesn't get a similar treatment, either by the network or the writers.
For starters, I'm hoping they don't kill somebody in every episode, like they did with Harper's Island. It was hard to become invested in Harper's characters because you weren't sure who to trust, and you weren't sure who would be dead by next week. And did I mention there were a lot of them? Like 30? Unlike Harper's, Unknown show has a small and manageable cast, and I'd like to get to know them all while they're trapped in this town, which has a classy new hotel, a clueless front desk clerk (who seems to be in a similar if voluntary boat), a working (and delicious) Chinese restaurant and a main street that's about 500 feet long. Knowing that somebody might get shot next week already has me less interested in getting to know the characters (because why bother?), and without that, I don't know if I can invest myself in the whodunit.
That said, there are some characters I'm already annoyed with. The soldier who comes out of his hotel room choking people, not knowing what side they're on. The car salesman who ignores screams of help to go get a shotgun, and later leers at women who are checking their legs for remote-controlled sedative-releasing implants. Even the stubbly mystery man who won't tell anyone about his job or background irks me in a ruggedly handsome way. But I want to learn more about the single mom whose husband went missing long before she did, and who is possibly more afraid of her abusive mother than she is her abductors. And I want to see more of crazy Alan Ruck as a wealthy man prone to emotional outbursts. (Cameron Frye 4-EVA!) I want to know what's up with the blonde party girl who seems to be perpetually hungover. And I want to know how much you have to pay a team of apparently world-class Chinese cooks to come to a prison camp and cook for people who point shotguns and scream threats in lieu of leaving tips.
Like Harper's Island, Persons may turn out to be a story that could have been told in a two-hour movie, but by virtue of its 10-hour length was able to develop its characters beyond being cardboard cutouts, thereby making each of their introductions, revelations and even deaths more resonant. But hopefully they'll emulate Lost and keep their main characters alive for as long as possible -- at least a season or two.
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