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New mini-series Wayward Pines is a wild, eerie ride

Matt Dillon and Juliette Lewis star in mystery drama, Wayward Pines. -- PHOTO: FOX
Matt Dillon and Juliette Lewis star in mystery drama, Wayward Pines. -- PHOTO: FOX

New TV series promises answers to the puzzles, but 10 episodes may not be enough for all the explanations

If the television show Lost (2004-2010) taught anything, it is that viewers get mightily ticked off if you tease a mystery for too long or too elaborately, and then fail to explain it properly.

As a limited-run series with just 10 episodes, the new drama Wayward Pines has learnt at least part of this lesson and will not make us tarry too long.

In the opening scene, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) wakes up dazed and bloodied in the picturesque but eerie town of Wayward Pines, Idaho - and soon realises that its strange residents will not let him leave.

Creator Chad Hodge promises definite answers to this and other puzzles - why there are hidden cameras everywhere and why pre-recorded cricket noises emanate from the bushes - by the end of week 10. But it is not clear whether those answers will be entirely satisfactory.

Sent to investigate the disappearance of two other agents, Burke gets into an unexplained car accident on the outskirts of the town. Disoriented, he refuses treatment in its creepy deserted hospital.

Disconcerting encounters with several Wayward Pines residents follow, from the sinister, needle- brandishing Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo) to the menacing, ice cream-guzzling Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard).

Viewers eventually learn that the people here - down to the scowling little boys riding past on bikes - live by a peculiar set of rules that forbids them from talking about the past or ignoring a ringing telephone, among other things.

The plot thickens when barmaid Beverly (Juliette Lewis), who seems like the only normal person, slips Burke the address of an abandoned house, where he then finds the decomposing body of one of the agents.

Meanwhile, he is inexplicably unable to reach anyone in the outside world, including his wife and son, who are starting to worry.

Adapted from Blake Crouch's best-selling novels, the surreal setting and oddball characters of the series will invite immediate comparisons to David Lynch's cult TV show Twin Peaks (1990-1991), which the author has admitted drawing inspiration from.

But it channels other well-known influences too, including Franz Kafka's existential angst, the surveillance paranoia of The Truman Show (1998) and the small-town oppressiveness of The Stepford Wives (1975 and 2004).

Executive-produced and co-directed by The Sixth Sense (1999) director M. Night Shyamalan - whose involvement alone suggests a supernatural explanation may be at work - it weaves together tropes from all of the above with a hefty dose of suspense and foreboding.

And often rather effectively. There are some genuine chills, including one particularly horror movie-worthy moment involving a bunch of telephones.

Yet it also veers into camp, especially with some over-the-top acting courtesy of Howard and Leo.

In the first few episodes, the tone and pace are often uneven, lagging in places and then lurching forward with big reveals crammed into episodes three through five.

With one hairpin narrative turn after another, Wayward Pines may well have the opposite problem from the long-running Lost - too little time for all that exposition.

Points have to be awarded for unpredictability, though. Some of the plot developments are so wild that a show that seemed to belong in one genre may end up in an entirely different one - which will delight some viewers but annoy others.

stlife@sph.com.sg