BEYOND: Monday 9PM on Freeform (Preview Tonight at 9PM), also available on VOD/streaming – Change the Channel
Add BEYOND to the growing pile of genre shows that have failed at Freeform since Pretty Little Liars became the network’s signature series, joining Guilty, Twisted and Dead of Summer. (Shadowhunters returns on Monday but with new showrunners, and Stitchers unaccountably continues to survive.) Based on its opening two hours–the first will air as a “preview” on New Year’s night between runs of the final Harry Potter movies, then it repeats with the 2d hour in the show’s regular Monday slot; meanwhile, all 10 episodes are already on VOD and Freeform’s streaming sites–it’s both low-grade and all too familiar.
Although created by relative newbie Adam Nussdorf (who wrote both of the initial hours), Beyond is produced under the stewardship of several more senior producers, including Tim Kring of Heroes, and it’s easy to see what attracted him to the project, since it feels like a rejected spin-off from that show. Once again, we have a seemingly normal young man, here named Holden (Burkely Duffield), who finds himself mysteriously gifted with superpowers. And, of course, he’s immediately stalked by unfamiliar figures who may be threats or allies.
In Holden’s case, all this occurs after he abruptly wakes from 12 years in a coma, much to the astonishment of mom Diane (Romy Rosemont), dad Tom (Michael McGrady), and brother Luke (Jonathan Whitesell). The latter is younger than Holden, but having lived through the last dozen years, he becomes his brother’s guide to cell phones and hooking up, and that, along with Diane’s turn to Christianity, is all the characterization anyone gets. To the extent the script makes things comprehensible, it appears that while Holden’s body was in that coma, his consciousness was in some presumptively evil version of the X-Men training facility, where he knew the lovely Willa (Dilan Gwyn), who in bodily form has now shown up in Holden’s town to warn him about the forces who want to exploit him or worse. It’s not really clear what Holden’s powers are, by the way, incoherently presented as directors Lee Toland Krieger and Steven A. Adelson make them, but they involve making the earth shake and causing lots of heat that leads to sparks, melting surfaces and fire. In case that’s not enough, Holden also has flashes (memories? premonitions?) of being in a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type temple that disturb him greatly.
We’re so smothered at this point with stories of accidental superheroes that a project lacking sheer overwhelming spectacle–and a Freeform series shot in Canada isn’t going to supply that–needs to be striking in terms of its writing, acting or angle on the story. (Netflix’s current The OA provides an example, although it has its own issues.) None of that is present in Beyond, which doesn’t step an inch outside the blandest possible YA sci-fi playbook. The actors are limited by the material they’ve been given to play, but none of them puts any individual spin on their characters, either. The result starts out tiresome and never improves.
It’s not clear what Freeform would consider successful numbers for Beyond, which is likely to get a middling lead-in from Shadowhunters, and will in any case have its on-air ratings dented by the decision to make it instantly binge-able. Creatively, though, Beyond is nothing but constrained, by its own lack of finesse and especially imagination. Its only superpower is being mundane.