4 out of 5
Created by: Adam Nussdorf
At first glance, Beyond is a show that’s easy to dismiss. It’s got a CW-ized cast, and the setup seems to simultaneously be aping Stranger Things nostalgia, Marvel hero-fantasy, and Abrams puzzle-box structuring; it’s not an appealing combination.
But at second glance, those criticisms tend to fall away: The casting is actually mostly age appropriate (lead actor Burkely Duffield is currently 24, playing a 25 year old), and though there are a couple of CW glory shots, the two primary characters are pretty human looking – and the inevitable dude-with-the-admirable-bod (Brother Luke Matthews, played by Jonathan Whitesell) isn’t cast in that role, instead actually written like a flesh and blood person. The 90s setting is simply a fake-out prelude, showing us the events that left the main character in a coma, from which he awakens in the present day, the setting we stick with thereafter. The super powers are not glorified, and don’t come with a training montage: the powers are destructive and random, but the writers are still mindful enough to have a brief conversation about how they’re a burden, and yet to suddenly go back to “normal” would probably be boring. And the Lost-esque mysteries are resolved pretty early; while we might not know the exact nature of what certain plot pieces are, the good guys and the bad guys amd general gist are pretty clearly established from the outset.
So a better short summary of the show is that it’s a surprise. Most shortcuts I expected it to take it didn’t; most tropes I expected it to divert into it avoided; and on the whole – most shockingly – the characters generally respond fairly logically to their situations, not furthering any given problem through scripted ignorance.
13 year old Holden (Duffield) is being chased in the woods by some bullies. He crashes his bike, then starts to see some crazy things happening around him – items floating and whatnot.
12 years later he wakes from a coma, one which apparently began that bike-crashing night. Oddly, his mental acuity and strength haven’t diminished during the intervening years, and he starts to have odd dreams that seem to cause effects in the real world – electronics flickering, stuff melting. Then come the cryptic visitors telling him to watch his back, alerting him to the truth in his dreams.
…But all this stuff settles down and gets simplified: Yes, something happened while Holden was in his coma that has given him these powers, and now there are other people – relative good and bad ones – who want to make use of that power. And from then on, the show tightens up admirably, Holden doing his best to sift through the mumbo jumbo while trying to readjust to his own life. Duffield plays this role incredibly well, gifted with a good script that he applies to a slightly goofy but intelligent character template, thoughtful and impulsive in good measure. His relationship with his brother is similarly believable, mixed between bonding and dissonance, thanks to a nice performance from Whitesell, and his parents (Michael McGrady and Romy Rosemont) and I-know-what-you-don’t-know consort Willa (Dilan Gwyn) all positively add to this well-handled balance – no one under- or over-reacting, no dunderheaded solely-for-the-plot maneuvers.
If the show is guilty of anything, it’s of being underwhelming. While I appreciated the overall avoidance of sensationalism, the show does really stick to its whole subdued / quiet m.o. the whole way through, which is sort of a stand-in for ‘contemplative’ even though – despite what may sound like a packed explanation above – there’s really not that much going on. It’s a plus/minus: By not going down the puzzle box route, the way they end up doling out information – in satisfying, episodic clusters – also ends up staving off big twists or too much mythology. And without that clogging up the view, its clearer that the main concept – while inventive – is, again, pretty basic. To thus pad things out we get some go-nowhere subplots (including, disappointingly, a road trip with actress Eden Brolin, who’s a lot of fun). The show is sufficiently spaced out such that there’s not any single episode that lingers too long, but if you were hoping for all the CW stuff and other things I maligned, even once discovering you’re getting shorted on those, I would understand people checking out partway through the series because of its slower pace.
But I was okay with that. I’m okay with a show taking its time to try to do right, and I really hope this type of young adult format – one that has an actual script and doesn’t force relationship crap in there because everyone’s gotta love love – is influential enough to cause a mini ripple of imitators. Or at least a season 2.