THRILLER “BIG SKY” INSTILLS FEAR ON DESOLATE HIGHWAYS
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“BIG SKY” ON ABC NETWORK A visionary storyteller, former practicing lawyer David E. Kelley got his start in the entertainment business as a writer for Steven Bochco’s “L.A. Law,” which led to a career as creator of several networks series, including “Picket Fences” and “Boston Legal.”
In recent years, Kelley created series in cable television with HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and “The Undoing.” Cable offers more latitude than network television, and so his latest entry of “Big Sky” for ABC may lack the lurid edginess that comes with more creative freedom. At the core of the “Big Sky” story is the kidnapping of young girls by a psychopath whose motive is not clearly in focus at first. Could it be a weird sexual fetish that may not play out too well on a network series?
Appropriate to the show’s title, the setting is Montana, known for its wide vistas and open spaces. The first scene is at the Dirty Spoon diner in Helena, a casual place with signage proclaiming “You Kill It! We Grill It!” Sitting alone with a cup of coffee, Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick) suddenly rushes out of the joint after hearing a love song, heading off to her office to confront Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) with the question, “Are you sleeping with my husband?”
Jenny’s husband, from whom she is actually separated, is Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe), but together along with Cassie they own a private detective agency, thus creating an awkward situation that soon erupts in a saloon brawl between the two women.Meanwhile, two teenage sisters Danielle and Grace Sullivan (Natalie Alyn Lind and Jade Pettyjohn) have the hit road from Colorado so that Danielle can visit her boyfriend in Montana who just happens to be the son of the Hoyts.
A long-haul trucker, Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty), a 38-year-old man still living at home, is being mocked by his domineering mother (Valerie Mahaffey) for being a failure, if only for the reason that her friends boast of kids with important white-collar jobs.
Lecturing her son about not cleaning up after himself in keeping with her “my house, my rules” edict, Ronald’s mother exhibits attitudes that would cause any child to have “mommy issues,” which seem to cast Ronald into a Norman Bates mindset. Local law enforcement appears primarily in the form of state trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch) who is harried by a spouse feeling romantically neglected. That Legarski has a lot of quirks is first revealed in an oddly weird exchange with a stranded out-of-state visitor.
The nettlesome love triangle between the Hoyts and Cassie has to be put on hold when it becomes apparent that the arrival of the two sisters is long overdue, and the private eyes are engaged to help solve the mystery. If you have seen any advertising for the show or even read the brief synopsis about young girls being kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway, then there is really no spoiler being revealed here.
An accident on the interstate takes the two sisters to a backroad where they narrowly miss being hit by Ronald’s rig. Angered by the incident, Danielle unwisely decides to pass the trucker to hurl profane insults, not knowing how deranged he is.Apparently, the girls are too young to know about Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” a cautionary tale about offending a psychotic truck driver who gives perilous chase to someone with the audacity to race ahead.
As misfortune goes, the sisters run out of gas on the desolate highway, and now along comes Ronald seeking twisted vengeance for hurt feelings, or something. But why kidnap the girls? Is it some sort of sexual perversion or just Norman Bates-like derangement? The end of the first episode has a shocking twist that will not be divulged with even any vague hints of the big surprise. That’s the way David E. Kelley would like to tantalize the audience with a real cliffhanger series.
During ABC’s virtual press tour in late September, Kelley proclaimed that “at the end of each episode, I think the audience should be leaning in and say what’s going to happen next?” I’m not sure how he tops the first shocker in the episodes to follow. “Big Sky” is a tantalizing thriller, but it is one where any layer of mystery is undercut to a degree in that Ronald is so transparently evil from the start. However, keep an eye on some of the other players for their motivations that might come out of left field.
Apropos of almost nothing, a quick mention of the pandemic here and there makes the story contemporary, but it appears nobody is adhering to protocols. Perhaps “Big Sky” seeks to offer much-needed escapism from our woes, or unbeknownst to the CDC the virus skipped over Montana.At this early stage, deciding to invest time in this twisty thriller requires viewing at least a few episodes and see if the series lives up to the expectations of surprises in store according to the show creator.