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Silent Witness: Showtime's "Meadowlands"

It's always hard when you watch a new series and find yourself WANTING to like it rather than, you know, actually liking it.

That was the experience I had with Showtime's new eight-episode British series Meadowlands, an eerie and suspenseful glimpse into the dark underbelly of suburban life that ends up buckling like a house of cards once a sharp wind blows against it.

The premise is an interesting one: a family--lead by State of Play and Blackpool's David Morrissey as Danny Brogan--is forced into the witness protection program and hustled off to a new town, Meadowlands, with new identities. There to start their lives anew, they're forced to deal with the past, both the reasons they've ended up in the Program as well as the struggles they've had as a family unit. Wife Evelyn (Lucy Cohu) finds herself going out of her mind as they're told by their handler Samantha (Nina Sosanya) repeatedly not to leave Meadowlands; she finds herself suddenly the object of lust by the local doctor (Tristan Gemmill), who appears unable to filter out his feelings for Evelyn. Son Mark (Harry Treadaway), his hands badly burned in a mysterious fire that claimed the family's house, is an autistic mute who turns towards the wardrobe of his sister Zoe (Felicity Jones) in order to find solace. Daughter Zoe is herself a teen temptress, attempting to peel away the veneer of shifty handyman Jack (of All Trades) Donnelly (Tom Hardy) to find out just what makes this budding sociopath tick.

It's Jack that provides the series' few scares; he's a mighty terror instantly fixated on the cupid-bow-lipped Zoe, who is drawn into Jack's web of psychotic behavior, including a rather sick and twisted sexual relationship with the doctor's wife Abigail (Emma Davies). Meanwhile, the Brogans' neighbor Brenda Ogilvie (Melanie Hill), who spends most of her time scrubbing a stain off the living room floor, begins to undress in front of her bedroom window as Mark Brogan, staring mutely, watches dispassionately. That is, until the arrival of Brenda's zaftig daughter Jezebel (Ella Smith), apparently the town's resident sweetheart/sexpot (a 200+ lb sexpot, that is), who breaks the spell of Mark's muteness with a sly glance.

Just when you think that Meadowlands--policed by the savage Wintersgill (Ralph Brown) who kicks the living crap out of Jack after Danny catches him fooling around with Zoe--couldn't get any weirder, the penny drops. Meadowlands isn't just your average bizarre, Twin Peaks lite community; no, the reason everyone is quite so shifty is that every single one of the residents of idyllic Meadowlands is in the Witness Protection Program. It's a brilliant conceit and a fantastic twist on the familiar story of outsiders in the suburbs (already played out more than effectively in FX's The Riches), but I do wish that it had been handled with a bit more of panache. Instead, after being teased for the better part of an hour, the reveal is effectively an aside at the end of the first episode. This sort of jaw-dropping reverse demands a huge set piece in which Danny uncovers the true nature of Meadowlands, but the information is casually tossed to him with a shrug by handler Samantha.

It's moments like these that take me out of the moment whilst watching Meadowlands. which seems littered with scenes and characters that are just too unbelievable and test my suspension of disbelief. Jack is the perfect example of this issue. Not only is he creepy and terrifying, but the guy is a felon and sexual predator. Without revealing too much, Zoe discovers that Jack has a fear trigger, which acts like an aphrodisiac; when his victim exhibits extreme terror, Jack is turned on to the point where there's only one outcome possible: attack. This is, after all, the same guy, we're told, who kidnapped a woman and held her hostage for seven days before she died.... when he was only 14. So my question is: why on earth would the Witness Protection Program put this guy in with members of the public? Especially members of the public whom they are meant to be protecting?

Which is too bad really because there are some interesting elements going on in Meadowlands. The cast, especially David Morrissey, Lucy Cohu, and Felicity Jones, are top-notch and it is fascinating to watch them interact on screen as they deal with the new parameters of their life in hiding. The notion of anonymous escape in the suburbs is a tantalizing one, as is the idea of devising an entire secret town filled with witnesses to crimes, a town Samantha claims that impenetrable to the outside world, but as astute viewers, we know it's only a matter of time (Episode Two, in fact) before that world invades Meadowlands.

But for a series that claims to be grounded in fear and suspense, Meadowlands is wholly lacking in scares, a seriously flaw in a series with such a fantastic conceit. Instead, you can't help but be struck by the fact that the series is just weird... for the sake of being weird. Meadowlands might not be someplace I'd ever want to find myself living in but, sadly, it's not a town even I feel like visiting for the next handful of episodes.

"Meadowlands" launches Sunday, June 17th, at 10 pm on Showtime.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The Price is Right (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Kyle XY (ABC); Bones (FOX)

9 pm: The 34th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards (CBS; 9-11 pm); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); National Bingo Night (ABC); Standoff (FOX)

10 pm: Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

9 pm: The Gil Mayo Mysteries on BBC America.

It's an all-new mystery series on BBC America starring Alistair McGowan (Bleak House) as Gil Mayo, a single dad and detective. On tonight's episode, Mayo and the team investigate a suburban-set murder.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I have it set to record...I will let you know what I think.
I had high hopes for Meadowlands and was hugely disappointed. The conceit is fantastic - an entire town occupied by people in witness protection - but the execution is forced and awkward. The tremendous cast is overshadowed by over the top storylines of violence and lust. Nothing is subtle in Meadowlands and I think the story suffers because of that. The character of Jack is an interesting one but he is so out of control that I can't understand why Zoe would be drawn to him or why (as you said) they'd allow him loose in Meadowlands. Same goes for the cop, Wintersgill.

This is an intricate story that should be full of eerie twists and turns but instead it's like a raging bull kicking and screaming and destroying everything in its path. I only watched the first two episodes but I don't think I can stomach any more than that.
Jon88 said…
Just for the record: BBC America has adopted a policy of rerunning last week's episode in the first hour of the two-hour blocks. So the 8 p.m. "Mayo" is a repeat from last week (similarly, the 10 p.m. "Hollyoaks" is last night's).
Bill said…
A yawner, I thought. A few nice touches, but something about the show felt like a cheap daytime soap opera.
Anonymous said…
Well, I watched it and I am definitely intrigued. I thought it started off very slow but got better and better. Ultimately, I'd have to say I am looking forward to next week, but I am not completely won over.

"So my question is: why on earth would the Witness Protection Program put this guy in with members of the public? Especially members of the public whom they are meant to be protecting?"

Yeah, this didn't make any sense to me, either.

Did you see Instiable? I kinda thought it mined similar territory (at least, the weird town aspect) and maybe did it better, though I thought that had flaws as well.
Jace Lacob said…
Ally,

I did see the pilot for "Insatiable" and was struck by some tonal/theme similarities. I did think that Insatiable was a little more successful, though, at achieving its ends than "Meadowlands." (I'd have much rather seen more of "Insatiable" than the four eps of "Meadowlands" I watched.)
Anonymous said…
Agreed. I wish they'd picked up Insatiable.
Anonymous said…
i agree with you...the show seemed to be good but it really sucked. too bad. btw you write too much. try to shorten your opinions.

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