Television is cyclical. When one successful show ends we immediately question what’s the next show, if any, that could replace it. ABC’s puzzling mystery “Lost” ended 12 years ago and creatives are still trying to find ways to recapture the dizzying, mounting, and (sometimes) frustrating tension that series cultivated. The latest attempt is the new EPIX series “From,” which boasts so many connections to “Lost” (and alumnae) that the viewer may wonder if the desire is for this to stand alone on its own merits.
We meet the residents of a run-down town as they’re preparing to call it a day. Not because their work has been done, but as town cryer/sheriff Boyd Stevens (Harold Perrineau) warns them: They have to be inside before the sun sets. It’s discovered that the town is preyed on nightly by mysterious creatures who look like real people, yet aren’t. A family on vacation soon enters the town, only to discover they can’t leave. The town has brought people to it and trapped them there for reasons no one understands.
As previously mentioned, the show’s creative team is bonafide in the mystery/thriller genre. Creator John Griffin wrote on an episode of Jordan Peele’s “Twilight Zone,” while the first four episodes of the 10-episode series are directed by Jack Bender, a director on several episodes of “Alias” and a producer on, you guessed it, “Lost.” Bender also worked in producing capacities on several Stephen King series adaptations like “Under the Dome” and “Mr. Mercedes” which is another element of “From” that’s hard to shake: how much it feels like a King rip-off, from the way it’s filmed to the fact that Eion Bailey, who plays town newcomer Jim Matthews, was in the recent series adaptation of “The Stand.”
With all that established it’s difficult to watch “From” — even that one word, generic descriptor title seems derivative — and find the originality within it, and it certainly doesn’t arrive in the first four episodes made available to press. Like any good puzzle box mystery worth its salt, the series makes a big splash with its pilot — and by that we mean a lot of blood and gore — and dials things way back to allow for building up the rules of the town and the numerous characters that inhabit it. The requisite characters one expects from a Stephen King/”Lost” hybrid like this are present and accounted for: the reluctant leader afraid he won’t be able to protect others, the bizarre Boo Radley who has a deep connection to the town’s mythology, a group of hedonistic outcasts, a Cassandra possibly working in league with the creatures.
The sheer number of characters leaves the audience only really bonding with two and that’s Harold Perrineau’s Boyd, the leader of the town, and the Matthews’, whose family vacation sees them on an endless road that always leads back to the town. Perrineau is always great to see and he’s wonderful in this leading role. It’s clear that he has demons the audience isn’t privy to, and while he fears he doesn’t have the gumption to protect the town — a little girl and her mother do die after 96 days without incident, per a chalkboard outside his office — he’s calming. Because Perrineau is such a dominating presence it’s frustrating when the camera goes to another character, many of whom feel too kooky for the viewer to actually bond with.
Bailey and Catalina Sandino Moreno, who play Jim and Tabitha Matthews, respectively, are our guides through the bizarre world of “From.” They’re pleasant enough, a nice, generic family who we eventually learn are falling apart after some type of tragedy. The actors are neither good or bad in their performances, it’s that their characters feel so basic because they’re the outsiders brought in and learning things as they go. Others, like Scott McCord’s Victor and even Corteon Moore’s Ellis, the latter Boyd’s son, feel like they have deeper story elements but everything is parceled out so deliberately. By the time Victor’s connections with the town are given a bit more insight, it only leads to more questions the audience already knows they won’t get answers to.
And like most of these thrillers, once the initial freak-out happens and the two murders take place, the series slams on the brakes to lay out the town’s structure and complicated rules. Jim learns about the creatures during a tense night trapped in the RV with his injured son, but Tabitha learns about them through Donna (Elizabeth Saunders), overseer of Colony House, an unclear housing community where citizens “live for the day,” whatever that means in this context. The discussion takes place off-camera because the series doesn’t plan to give audiences’ explanation that quickly toward what we’re dealing with, though it seems Jim and Tabby’s teenage daughter, Julie (Hannah Cheramy) recognized one of the creatures. So are they using the bodies of deceased people? Who knows!
Jim and Tabby decide to stay — because what other option is there when the town lives by “Hotel California” rules? — which leads to a discussion about where the pair will live. The class conflicts between the town and Colony House are alluded to, but never explicated. All we know is that wherever the group chooses to live that’s where they have to stay. Why, considering the locations are about a block apart? Who knows. For a series so bound up in rules and structure it’s fuzzy as to what benefits these rules have at all except to craft a cult-like world common to thrillers of this ilk. It’s a thing because all the other shows did it!
What’s more interesting are some of the psychological questions of the group’s situation. One episode sees Boyd struggle with punishing the father of the murdered girl for not nailing shut his windows. Outside of the questions that immediately pop up — like, considering his daughter’s age and the time they’ve been in the town how did she not know opening the window was a bad idea? — Boyd wonders if the punishment should fit the crime. It’s an interesting topic but leads to nearly everything being connected to the creatures. What about just punishing good, old-fashioned crimes in a town where no one can leave?
“From” maintains the audiences’ interest because of Harold Perrineau’s acting. He believes in the character and so does the audience. But like many of the shows it’s inspired/imitating, depending on your view, it spends too much time setting up its world and not pushing the story forward. If “Lost” was any indication, the true test will be whether this is more than a one-season wonder.
“From” premieres Sunday, February 20 at 9 p.m. ET on EPIX. New episodes will be released weekly.