I’ll go ahead and get this off my chest–I had never watched one episode of a Freeform show before I watched the first two episodes of freshmen series BEYOND tonight. Not Pretty Little Liars, not Switched at Birth, not even Melissa & Joey, and I LOVE ME a good mediocre pop culture icons from the 90’s pairing. I had in my mind a preconceived notion of what a series on a network previously known as ABC Family would be: pretty white tweens with pretty black best friends talking exactly how the thirty-or-forty-something year old writers imagine tweens talk and behave, but not actually anywhere close to how tweens actually talk and behave. When it comes to Beyond, I was half-right. I did catch myself exclaiming confused and excitedly aloud “Whaaaaaaaaaaaa????” at least once during the back to back two episode premiere. And while this isn’t anything wholly original or innovative, it was enough to keep me interested, for the two hours to fly by, and for me to insert a respectable “B” grade at the bottom of this review. I imagine grades will hover around there for the remaining eight episodes of the first season.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
The series begins in Fort Reed, Kansas. How do we know? Because the opening shot is on the town’s old water tank with the words “Fort Reed, Kansas” scrawled on it. We are brought into the Matthews’ home, where we meet our hero, Holden, who has an unhealthy obsession with space. I say unhealthy because the kid rigged up a functioning rotating solar system to his bedroom ceiling light… Seeing as he is not an infant in a crib, and indeed should be concerning himself with girls visiting soon as he is about to start high school, this decor choice seems to put Holden socially, we’ll say, a little delayed (this will prove to be even more true with forthcoming events). But hey, he had the smarts to build it, so, kudos to him.
With word from his father that tonight they’re supposed to get the closest meteor shower to earth this century, Holden is of course out the door (after saying goodbye to his little brother Luke) and on his motorbike to meet with Kevin (what do you know, his black best friend). Next thing you know, they’re hopping a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign and have climbed that old water tower. They crack open cans of beers and watch the meteor shower, Holden wondering aloud about the infinity of space and its possibilities. (SIDENOTE: Was actually surprised to see underage drinking on a Freeform show. Little did I know what was in store in episode two–we’ll get there, stay with me. (SIDENOTE WITHIN A SIDENOTE: Kevin proclaims he is drunk after ABOUT two sips of beer. Weak.))
When lights shine from an approaching car, they run, thinking it may be authorities, but it turns out it’s Kevin’s older brother, Jeff, sporting a dew rag and angry about Kevin stealing his six pack of beer. Kevin ends up taking a beating, which Holden can not just stand idly by and watch. He grabs his NASA bike helmet and SMACKS Jeff across the head with it, knocking him to the ground. Yep, time to put good use to that motorbike, kid. Holden hops on, but not before tossing his helmet at the other bullies. Bad mistake.
Figuring his safest bet is off-road where Jeff’s truck can’t follow, Holden zooms through the woods at top speeds, helmet-less. Of course pretty quickly his face meets a tree branch, sending his bike flipping in the air and Holden to the ground. When he manages to get up, he notices his bike starts back up by itself on its side. Then branches, leaves, rocks, and other clutter start to rise from the ground and float in the air. And then, of course, he is consumed by an all-encompassing white light (because advanced civilizations of aliens in science fiction can’t figure out how to abduct anyone in less conspicuous ways for some reason).
Here’s where things pick up. Holden wakes up in a hospital TWELVE YEARS LATER. A nurse bringing breakfast to the patient in the adjacent bed sees him stirring and SCREAMS. (She’s fired, right? You’re a NURSE, get it together). It threw me a little that Holden is now played by a different actor with different color hair. He’s also very handsome and in fantastic shape for having been bedridden for over a decade. If I sit on my ass without exercising for a month, I feel like I need a Rascal just to get around the grocery store. But okay.
After emotionally reconnecting with his parents and Luke, Holden is now the object of media attention, the boy who woke up after twelve years. Oprah called. When the family sits down for dinner for the first time together, Holden is surprised to find they now say a prayer before each meal, introducing a subplot I actually find interesting and heady for a Freeform show–where will religion fit in with all this Sci-Fi stuff? And does it actually play a bigger role? Later in episode two, Holden’s dad takes him to the garage to fix up his old motorbike, and explains he doesn’t go to church with his mom and brother because “we’re nuts and bolts guys.” If they see something wrong, they don’t sit around and pray for it to get better, they go out and fix it. I like this guy. Introducing humanism to the Freeform audience is ballsy and surprised me in a good way.
Anyway, it turns out Holden is sleepwalking (or perhaps something a bit more mystical) and waking up in the middle of the woods where he had his accident. Also, somebody has broken into the hospital where Holden had stayed and was looking for his files. They didn’t get it. Not sure how they missed that. Not sure if this is sloppy writing or just incompetent bad guys, either way, no es bueno.
Speaking of bad guys, there is an interesting one. Again something completely different than what I was expecting. He’s a real creeper in a mustard-colored jacket and big glasses from the 80’s. He looks like the accountant version of Roy Scheider from Jaws. The one all the other accountants beat up for lunch money. But we see he is tailing Holden, and has even compromised good ol’ Kevin (now a school psychologist/teacher, married with a kid on the way) into doing… something, regarding Holden. It’s not quite clear what he wants from Kevin. To deliver him to the bad guys, assuming they are bad guys?
Eventually Kevin and Holden are drawn out into the pouring rain (this is the type of show where it starts pouring rain just before the most dramatic moments and the characters for some reason go out in it) behind a bar, where Mustard Jacket threatens to put a bullet in Kevin’s head in front of Holden unless Holden demonstrates what he can do. Holden has no idea what he’s talking about, but is able to punch the ground, flooding with water, and sent some sort of electrical current through it, throwing the bad guys in the air (but keeping he and Kevin safe). They escape, but Mustard Jacket got what he wanted–video footage of Holden performing his ability. He takes it to his boss’ headquarters, a Mr. Frost, but he doesn’t score a face to face with him–just his second in command, I suppose, who scolds Mustard Jacket for his extreme tactics and calling the possible attention of law enforcement.
We also meet a potential love interest in Willa, who we first see Holden attempt at flirting with in a department store. Instead of writing her number on his arm, Willa writes “You’re in danger. Trust no one.” This would actually be an epic prank in real life, and I encourage all women being hit on obnoxiously in public spaces to do this to the guy, then speed walk away.
Turns out Willa and Holden have a past. They were somewhere together for the last twelve years. Where exactly remains a mystery even at the end of the second episode, which premiered right after the first. The first two episodes largely consist of Willa trying to get Holden to talk to her, but he refuses. We also see Willa is in contact with a mysterious old man, apparently in a coma as well, who is appearing in Holden’s dreams. Willa can talk with him through text somehow, which is actually very creepy and seems like something out of a Black Mirror episode, which is not a bad thing. I just hope they explain it.
Probably the most interesting sequence of the two episodes came when Luke insists Holden accompany him to his friend’s party to practice being around other people. It’s a college party. We meet Luke’s airhead girlfriend Riley, and her friend Jamie who takes a shining to our boy Holden. Holden’s clearly uncomfortable, but everyone is binge drinking and dancing. (SIDENOTE: In one cringe-worthy example of older writers writing for what they think young college girls are like, Holden excitedly leaps off a throw-away reference to Aristotle to talk about Copernicus, specifically how he first proposed the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice-versa, which prompts a “Whaaat is this guy talking about?” look between the two girls he’s talking to. Because they’re just partiers, right, like why would they know about Copernicus or the most basic fundamental detail of the universe we all learn in kindergarten LOL. Okay. End sidenote).
The most surprising (to me) event came in this scene–the kids light up a DOOBIE and play “Around the World” which basically starts with one person taking a hit, then exhaling smoke into the adjacent person’s mouth (usually of the opposite sex) and so on and so forth. On FREEFORM, formally ABC FAMILY!!! If this isn’t a sign of changing cultural attitudes towards marijuana, I don’t know what is.
Anyway, Holden gets high and starts tripping out, but we quickly learn it has to do with the whole being abducted by aliens thing and not so much THC. He starts having visions, locks himself in the candle-filled bathroom, and hallucinates he is in a grand, medieval-like chamber, lined with torches, and leading towards a door–where someone or someTHING is trying to break through. As Holden is in a seizure-like state on the bathroom floor the party’s electronics start spark and ignite fires… Some would say that this party is… LIT. (Did I do it right? Did I do the hip lingo right???) Anyway, the place almost burns down, Luke saves Holden and gets him out on time, but three kids are sent to the hospital.
This event causes Holden to see that it is pretty important that he gets his powers under control before he seriously hurts somebody innocent, and this sends him back to Willa, where he asks where they have been together for the past twelve years. CREDITS.
Overall, the show is tight, well acted, not TERRIBLY written, and I like the surprising adult and complex themes and ideas that the show is putting forth to its Freeform audience. Excited to see where this one goes! Stay with me.
Season 1, Episode 1-2 (S01E01-E02)
Beyond airs Mondays at 9PM on Freeform
Paul just awoke from a twelve-year coma to discover he possesses the mystical ability to watch an insane amount of TV and write incredible reviews for all.
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Paul Gulyas | Contributor