WonderCon 2017: Midnight, Texas Pilot Review, by Tyler Smith

1 Apr

To refer to Midnight, Texas as “Twin Peaks-lite” wouldn’t be particularly insightful. This isn’t because it’s unfair, but because  the comparison – and inevitable shortfall – is so obvious that to even use that as a shorthand could be considered lazy. Yes, the show is similar in structure and sensibility, but it definitely wants to be its own thing, rather than just a Twin Peaks clone. Unfortunately, the other elements of the show are also derived from other sources, such as the X-Men comics. By combining these elements – to make a show about a small town of supernaturally gifted people – the creators of Midnight, Texas try to distinguish themselves through tone and a unique Western setting, but the similarities to other properties are just too great and we can’t help but compare the show – unfavorably – to the countless other books, movies, and TV shows that came before.

The story involves Manfred Bernardo (Francois Arnaud), a psychic on the run who, with the guidance of the ghost of his recently-deceased grandmother, arrives in a small Texas town. As he tries to remain inconspicuous, he finds that the locals are very strange, and more than a little suspicious of his presence. He begins to hear rumors about the people around him – “some say she’s a witch”, etc. – and decides that he should try to keep to himself. That’s when the body of a young woman is found on the shores of a local river. She is dead, though not wrapped in plastic, so I guess that’s something. Manfred’s psychic abilities are utilized to find the murder weapon, and he soon finds that he can’t simply fade into the background.

So far, this is a sturdy premise on which to build a show. However, as Manfred is drawn further into the strange town and discovers how unique its residents are, that’s when the real problems start. While I understand that any high concept property will require a reasonable amount of exposition, Midnight, Texas explains so much so quickly that there aren’t really any mysteries left. Certainly, we don’t know who killed Laura Pa – uh, I mean Aubrey Hamilton – but every major character is helpfully summed up for Manfred, to the point that we have a good sense of who is good and who is bad, what each person’s “abilities” are, and everybody’s relationships to each other. So thorough are the creators in explaining things to the viewer that one of the few intriguing elements that hasn’t been explained – that being what exactly is going on with the local reverend – is so heavily hinted at (he whispers something about a full moon coming up and how he won’t be around for a few days) that they might as well have just looked right at the camera and winked.

I realize that the pilot of any show is meant to “sell” the concept and characters to the viewer, but at some point one has to wonder where the idea of trust comes in, both of the concept and the audience. Some of the best shows ever made feature a pilot where little is explained, but the writers rely on the strength of their larger premise and the tantalizing artistry to bring viewers back. Midnight, Texas, on the other hand, seems almost desperate to assure potential viewers that the show is filled with stuff they like. “Werewolves, witches, ghosts, vampires! They’re all here! Just come back next week! Please!” The show could have been much more effective if the first episode was spent more deeply contrasting Manfred’s psychic abilities with the quaintness of a seemingly-normal small town, only to reveal at the very end that there might be something going on underneath the surface.

But perhaps I’m being too hard on Midnight, Texas. The fact is, it is an interesting premise with a number of good performances. That’s certainly enough to hang a show on, and it’s entirely possible that future episodes will get much better. However, if the creators of the show trust the audience so little as to lay everything out in the first hour, I’m not holding out much hope for the next nine.

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