Friday, 7 February 2014

Pilot review: Amazon's THE AFTER

Friday, 7 February 2014
written & directed by Chris Carter

Chris Carter was the golden boy of '90s TV after creating The X Files, but never delivered a follow-up to equal its success with the mainstream. The closest he came was with crime drama Millennium, but even that only truly flourished in its second season, when he handed the reigns to Glen Morgan and James Wong while he worked on The X Files movie. Carter's been in semi-retirement since consigning Mulder & Scully to TV history in 2002 (save for 2008's X Files film sequel), but has now resurfaced to create a pilot for Amazon Studios entitled THE AFTER.

This is another sci-fi drama knitting together over-familiar ideas filled with archetypes, which doesn't initially bode well. Eight strangers are thrown together when a Los Angeles hotel elevator breaks down, soon escaping to an underground car park and realising they're trapped below with no way to communicate with the outside world.

The group include French actress Gigi (French actress Louise Monot), tough cop Marly (Jaina Lee Ortiz), sexy Tammy (Arielle Kebbel), laconic clown David (Jamie Kennedy), convicted felon "D" (Leverage's Aldis Hodge), outrageous Irish stereotype McCormick (Andrew Howard), moneyed "old lady" Francis (Sharon Lawrence), and suave lawyer Wade (Heroes' Adrian Pasdar). Together they search for a means to escape to street-level, becoming increasingly aware something has happened to cause widespread panic and lawlessness.

The After is a very mixed bag of hokiness, that just about keeps you engaged despite weak creative decisions, some dicey acting, and a painfully clich├ęd Irish character (swearing, spoiling for a fight, fond of a drink). I also have no idea why Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue) is playing a woman decades older than herself (through bad make-up), unless the plan is to have her character de-age mysteriously. I only say that because this pilot partly maintains a pulse by throwing up something strange every ten minutes.

Looking past the shaky acting, The After should be commended for ensuring its eight characters are the tight focus of the story—no matter how two-dimensional they might be. It was probably a necessity because of the low budget, but it nevertheless drew you into their situation. The way nothing is explained also worked in its favour, as the audience remain just as uninformed as the characters because the episode never jumps outside of their experiences. It's not until the last scene that we get any real insight into anything, really, and it's here that Carter deals a familiar surprise (doubly so, if you remember Millennium's use of the Ouroboros symbol). You'll either by excited by the "hook" for subsequent episodes (if they're made), or slightly wary given how American shows of this nature have a tendency to spin their wheels indefinitely.

As pilots go, The After did enough to ensure I'd watch more, which is all you can ask. The characters may be lazy stereotypes and I've been burned numerous times by other post-Lost sci-fi shows centred around mysteries, but this was oddly enjoyable despite its flaws. If a series is forthcoming thanks to positive audience response (and Lord knows Amazon want your feedback), I only hope the budget remains modest so its writers are forced to be inventive and use their money wisely. (The trailer's prominent sequence of World War Z-style crowded streets and exploding helicopters is probably where 80% of the cash went here).

Ultimately, it's a fairly unremarkable pilot, but there are fun ideas floating around. Of course, The After may become ludicrous trash if allowed to continue (if it isn't already), but a certain desire to see Chris Carter back making TV shows leaves me hoping Amazon request more.

Available to stream NOW on Amazon Instant (North America) and LOVEFiLM (Europe).