2 out of 5
Created by: Jami O’Brien
covers season 1
A very strong performance from lead Ashleigh Cummings and Zachary Quinto hammin’ it up as the bad guy can’t topple reed-thin mythology, extreme plot filler – even at ten episodes – and a couple of ridiculously distracting Boston accents.
Cummings plays Vic McQueen, daughter of Chris and Linda (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Virginia Kull), and desperately wanting to get out of Haverhill, Massachusetts and make her way to art school. Life, though, doesn’t seem to want that for her. Her parents – alcoholics, dad abusive of mom, mom emotionally abusive of Vic – reveal themselves more and more, day by day, to be the fractured people who they are; Vic cleans houses with her mom for scratch, whilst constantly being reminded that the McQueens aren’t college people, and she should get used to working as a maid. Vic has her friends, but they’re generally outcasts / outliers themselves; there’s a walled garden of rich kids with whom Vic consorts but is never sure if she belongs. And then there’s the magical ‘shorter way’ bridge, an ‘e-scape,’ that appears when she rides her ‘knife’ – her motor bike – which apparently allows her to track down lost items. Struggling to feel normal, this new weirdness isn’t a welcomed one…
Elsewhere, a long, fingered man named Charlie Manx rides around in his classic car, kidnapping children from parents he deems ‘unfit,’ and taking them to ‘Christmas Land.’ Also elsewhere, Maggie (Jahkara J. Smith) has a magic bag of Scrabble tiles that spells out answers to questions. Yes, these things are all connected.
Maggie has been hunting Manx; Manx ends up taking a child from Vic’s neighborhood. And so Maggie finds Vic and ‘splains it all – e-scapes, shorter ways, knifes – and the duo team up to take Manx down.
Not before we break for about eight episodes, though, so Vic can explore college and deal with her parents, Manx can hire an assistant (a poorly utilized Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), and Maggie can go on a bender. The mythology of e-scapes and etcetera is never explored; no one balks an eye at these silly terms for things. Maggie’s bag can be asked where lost things are, so it’s unclear what advantage she offers to Vic. Manx has an assortment of demon kids who do demonly things, and he can be mean, but we never understand his motivation, nor are really convinced of why he’s a threat. The show pisses about with the usual filler speedbumps – Vic loses her bike! – to delay what seems like a pretty easy final confrontation. And typical of a lot of AMC shows, there’s not a really good use of ‘episodes’ to punctuate things with 45-minute ideas or cliffhangers; the story just kind of drifts until the credits.
Are the Boston accents of Vic’s parents legit? Possibly. I’ve never lived there. I’d note that at least one of the actors (Moss-Bachrach) is from Massachusetts. But damn, I mean, I’ve seen films / shows make use of accents before, but this just felt like overkill; like someone cranked it up to make sure we were convinced it was legit, only to blow way past the point of immersion. Is the mythology of all the nonsense better handled in the book on which this was based? Possibly. I haven’t read it. But the show just comes across as having made up cheeky concepts and funny terms so that it seems ‘weird.’ It’s almost wholly unnecessary; Manx could have just been a kidnapper, and it could’ve played out mostly the same way.
Cummings is a highlight throughout, and I did find it interesting that the show doesn’t paint its characters in black or white, excepting Manx. Vic’s mom and dad are treated as human beings; the rich kids aren’t treated as the enemy, just different. But the strength of some of that characterization and its related writing doesn’t translate anywhere else, nor was it especially effectively woven in to the story; instead, it felt like we were watching, in part, the drama of Vic’s life, and then as a separate show, her adventures hunting Manx. The former show was probably a better one, but this was ‘horror,’ so we needed constant reminders of the latter, and that one… was not a great show.