M. Night Shyamalan’s career has been tumultuous, to say the least. He burst into Hollywood fame with The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable but has seen a steady decline in the years since those titles, with each successive effort ending up worst than the last. It’s been a tragic downfall for a director who’s shown flashes of greatness, only to be overshadowed by subpar offerings like The Happening (17% on Rotten Tomatoes), The Last Airbender (6%), and Lady in the Water (24%). The movie medium may very well be tapped out for the forlorn director, leading to his next venture in the world of television: Wayward Pines.
The first full-length trailer was released late last week, giving us our first look at the intriguing concept for the newest Fox show. The basic synopsis seems to be your run-of-the-mill “there’s a big secret in a small town and something is happening” premise that made Shyamalan famous, but if he can move beyond that, there may be potential. A cast with Terrence Howard, Matt Dillon, and Carla Gugino certainly helps, but in the end, it’ll be up to the writing to carry Wayward Pines, which Shyamalan himself claims is something of an homage to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Shyamalan’s role in the series spreads him out, with writing credits for three episodes and a directing credit for the pilot. This gives him just enough control to effectively make Wayward Pines his baby. In short, the show will rise or fall based on his creative choices. Given his most recent history, this could prove to be a tall order.
The other problem Wayward Pines may encounter is in its base concept. Shows like Lost spawned a slew of shows based entirely around a giant secret that it promises to possibly reveal at an unspecified later date. Many ended up getting cancelled after just the first or second seasons, with audiences getting tired of the endless teasing of unexplained secrets. Wayward Pines seems like a return to this, which could end up working against its success, should it double down on the classic M. Night Shyamalan twist strategy.
All that being said, there’s still great potential in having Twin Peaks act as a model of sorts. If you’re going to base the core concepts of your show set in a remote, mysterious town in the Northwest, that would certainly be the series to draw from. And perhaps the change in medium will do Shyamalan well. Movies haven’t treated him well since Unbreakable, and early reports from IMDB users with screeners of the pilot have largely been positive.
This may very well be Shyamalan’s make-or-break moment in Hollywood. If he falls flat once again, he’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to invest any money in his projects. A director can only have his vision fail so many times before the industry gives up on him. Should Wayward Pines fail, it might be the last project he’s given before he’s fully drummed out of Hollywood. The brilliance of The Sixth Sense, though, tells us one thing: A good director lives somewhere in that head — it just needs to find its voice one more time.