There’s a new heavy hitter in the TV game.
Allow us to reintroduce you to M. Night Shyamalan.
The Oscar-nominated filmmaker, best known for directing The Sixth Sense and for his love of twist endings, finally is giving television a try.
Shyamalan, mired in a film slump for the past few years, comes out swinging for the fences — and he connects big time — with Wayward Pines, a mind-bending, genre-shifting thriller that premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday on Fox.
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The 10-episode series opens like a Twin Peaks wannabe, with Matt Dillon starring as a Secret Service agent in a secretive Idaho town. Then the show changes directions at the midway point, delivering a whiplash-inducing surprise that will make viewers rethink everything they witnessed in the first four hours.
It’s as if a Twilight Zone episode suddenly morphs into a completely different but even better Twilight Zone episode.
“It’s a giant, giant idea,” Shyamalan, executive producer and director of the debut episode, says of the audacious payoff that awaits. “It’s like one of those Jurassic Park kind of ideas.
“It’s rare to come across big ideas like this that are both human and gigantic at the same time. I can’t take credit for that. That’s all Blake Crouch (the novelist whose Wayward Pines trilogy inspired the series). I’m super lucky to be the one who gets to shepherd this to audiences.”
Reversal of fortune
Wayward Pines represents something of a comeback opportunity for Shyamalan.
He followed the phenomenal success of The Sixth Sense (1999) with such hits as Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) and The Happening (2008). But then came some widely panned missteps, The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), that virtually turned him into an industry joke.
Shyamalan says he resisted the idea of jumping to TV for many years. As a result, he was behind the curve when he realized that many of the top directors and writers in the business were doing their best work on the small screen.
“I got to the altar a few times, but always found a reason not to do project X, Y or Z,” he says. “I worried a little bit that maybe I would not feel the clarity that I feel when I do most of my movies.
“Then, after maybe a year and a half of trying to find something that felt right, the pilot for Wayward Pines came across my desk. I’m really lucky that it did. It just fit so well.”
The Shyamalan surprise
It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Wayward Pines has a big surprise coming. Twist endings have been one of Shyamalan’s signature moves throughout his career.
What’s really audacious is the way the show unveils its shocker relatively early.
“I think our format is really unusual,” Shyamalan says. “The decision to get to the reveal midway through the season was something I felt strongly about. We didn’t want to have the more traditional format of tease, tease, tease and then at the very end tell you the answer, because I thought the answer was a very exciting world to live in as well.
“I think that finding out all the answers halfway through the series — then to change genres in the second half once you realize what genre you’re really in — will be an amazing thing for audience members.”
Dillon, an Academy Award nominee for his performance in Crash (2005), plays Agent Ethan Burke, who arrives in the town of Wayward Pines searching for two missing colleagues (one played by Carla Gugino). Finding the agents is easy, but leaving Wayward Pines proves to be impossible.
First a car accident puts Burke in the hospital, under the care of the creepiest nurse since Nurse Ratched (Melissa Leo). Then he butts heads with an ice-cream-eating sheriff (Terrence Howard). Before long, he wants to know the reason for the extensive Big Brother surveillance and the impenetrable fence that surrounds the town.
We won’t reveal any details about the answer, which comes in Episode 5, aptly titled “The Truth.” But we can assure you that it’s a doozy.
▪ 8 p.m. Thursday
▪ KDFW/Channel 4