Sunday, October 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'Eyewitness' - Philip and Lukas Struggle in Their Relationship After Witnessing a Murder in 'Buffalo '07'

USA's Eyewitness - Episode 1.01 "Buffalo '07"

As teens Philip and Lukas share a first kiss, they witness a murder and don't report it for fear of being outed. Their lie grows when Philip's foster mom, Sheriff Helen Torrance, takes the case.

The television industry isn't in short supply of small-town murder mysteries. It's a genre that has more than proven itself for a number of networks over the last few years. It's a way to broaden horizons by offering a serialized story while also incorporating something very familiar in a police investigation. It has shown itself to be a winning formula. There's the expectation that the main story will be wrapped up in one season. The show then has to figure a new way to incorporate the same characters in the same structure for a second season or take things in the anthology direction and focus on a new crime in a new small town. Eyewitness definitely has a different and refreshing perspective by focusing on the eyewitnesses to a brutal murder. And yet, this opening episode is really bland and doesn't offer quite enough texture to make this a captivating story told across ten episodes.

So much of the problems in "Buffalo '07" come from an awkwardness in the storytelling. This is a show that predominately wants to be about the plot. That gets in the way of character development. When the actors at the center of the story are strong, it can be easy to overlook these problems. But when the actors aren't up to the task, it can get very boring and lackluster very quickly. There really is no mystery to the central case for the season. It's the story of a couple of mobsters being killed in a cabin. One of them survives and is now avoiding detection by local police while also trying to silence the two eyewitnesses to his crime. The audience sees this man and knows exactly what he is up to. This is a simple drug deal gone wild. So, the audience knows the motivation behind all of it as well. We even get a glimpse into the lives of the two teens who witness this crime. It's a lot of information to be given upfront. And yet, the show really doesn't do anything with all of it to make it a rewarding viewing experience.

The two teens were at the cabin because they are secretly in a relationship. However, their dynamic is so clumsily handled. It feels like a plot contrivance instead of something that happens naturally. This is apparently the first time they have ever kissed. Their entire friendship is a secret. Philip is new to town and Lukas doesn't want to be seen with him for some reason. That may be because he's popular at school and Philip is a foster kid with a junkie mom. The reasoning behind so much of Lukas' actions are frustratingly left vague. It's hard to invest in this relationship because it means nothing. Both of the actors are attractive. They do have chemistry with each other. But it's hard to understand what the show wants the audience to think of their relationship. Right now, it's one of sexual frustration. They are pulled to each other but can't be together because of self doubt and fears of public perception. That's why they don't come forward after witnessing three people killed right in front of them. It's a laughable excuse at best though.

Conveniently, Philip's foster mother, Helen, also happens to be the town sheriff. She's the one brought to the scene of the crime to investigate. So, that means Philip has an in with this investigation. He can get access to how much she has learned about that night. He can determine whether or not he and Lukas should be worried for their lives because the man who saw them is still alive. Philip doesn't think so for some arbitrary reason. It's something concerning shoes. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's largely just an excuse for the two of them to go back to their awkward dynamic at school. Lukas doesn't want to come out. He barely wants to do anything with Philip beyond kiss. Apparently, he has a girlfriend as well which frustrates Philip because he's not being his authentic self. And yet, it hardly resonates when Philip ultimately pushes Lukas away because he won't be kept in secret. Philip is fleshed out as a main character throughout this premiere. He opens up to his foster parents a little bit while also wanting his mother to get better. Meanwhile, Lukas says the world around him doesn't want him to be this type of person. And yet, that pressure is never really an important onscreen component of this premiere.

Of course, Philip and Lukas may not be able to handle the awkward dynamics of their relationship because the central murder will keep them together. It's a bonding experience because Lukas saves Philip from the killer. And then, the premiere ends with Philip seeing the killer again on the bus. It's an ominous tease for what's to come. And yet, it's such a formulaic and predictable twist. This man is targeting another teen because he's wearing Philip's jacket. That's the only piece of evidence the killer really saw. It means that there may be even more murder in this small town. That would surely complicate things for Helen and the FBI officer handling the case because her informant was one of the people killed. But again, it's hard to muster any kind of excitement because of the intense focus on the plot. Twists are only effective if the audience cares about the characters involved. The killer showing up in town again will more than likely force Philip and Lukas together. Worrying about this guy finding them should take priority over Lukas worrying about the truth coming out. And yet, it seems pretty clear that that will remain an important part of this story.

Plus, it doesn't seem like Helen makes a whole lot of progress with the official investigation. That's a huge problem considering how much information the audience already has. We know exactly what happened that night. We know what the killer looks like. We know just how important Philip and Lukas actually are. And yet, Helen spends most of her time locking horns with FBI Agent Kamilah Davis. She had an asset killed and wants to keep that a secret. If that gets out, she and her partner could lose their jobs. That's the thread that Helen immediately starts pulling on. It's an investigation once again centered around someone being left handed even though the gun was found in his right hand. She knows the murders were staged. That could up the pressure once Helen starts digging deeper into the actual evidence. But again, the evidence almost seems pointless. It's a lot of chaos for Helen to untangle. The show also has a few tricks up its sleeve by hinting at a much darker past for her and a case she may have mishandled. And yet, how is the audience suppose to take her seriously as an investigator if she has difficulty piecing together these basic pieces of evidence that the audience already knows about?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Buffalo '07" was written by Adi Hasak and directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
  • Helen and her husband, Gabe, foster Philip because Gabe's family used to foster teenagers as well when he was younger. He is still friends with some of them too. Of course, this is still new to Helen because she's listening to audiotapes on how to be a good foster mother.
  • Helen and Gabe know that Philip goes to see his mother in the city because they are tracking his phone. That could become an important plot device later on with the actual investigation. Right now, it just leads to a story about Philip wanting his mother to go to rehab so that she could legally see him again.
  • The police presence in this town only seems to be Helen and one other officer. He's energized when this murder happens. It's the first murder in this town. He decides to color code the entire murder board but he doesn't fill out an official report because he doesn't know where the paperwork is.
  • Kamilah's sister was apparently in a relationship with Chris. So, it's devastating when he is killed because of Kamilah. However, they still appear to be close even though their lives are slowly falling apart.
  • It's certainly a weird scene when Chris' wife pulls a gun on a man just to get a paycheck from him. It's enough to get her baby taken away later on. But once again, it's a twist that barely means anything because she doesn't exist as a character yet.
  • Lukas clearly lets the attention of his classmates get to him. It's not clear if they are really talking about him and Philip being with each other. He just perceives it that way and promptly punches Philip in the face. And yet, there really aren't any consequences to that action at all.
  • The look of the show may be a little too bleak and muted. Perhaps that's a nod to the Norwegian series it is based on? But it hardly helps the show overcome some of its bland storytelling choices.