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If Freeform hadn’t released all 10 episodes of supernatural drama Beyond online the day it premiered, I probably wouldn’t have watched the first season all the way through. The show has its positive points, but, all in all, it’s just another supernatural fantasy show.
When Holden Matthew (Burkely Duffield), wakes up after being in a coma for 12 years, he realizes that he has some strange supernatural abilities, and this is just the beginning of the mystery he finds himself caught in the middle of. His powers hold the key to a strange world known as “the Realm,” the place he soon discovers is where he spent his 12 comatose years.
The Realm itself isn’t all that distinct. Throughout the series, we see its temples, its blinding light, thick forests, a tundra landscape, and a city of high-reaching glass and stone buildings. The territory varies so much, and we spend so little time in the strange world; as a result, it lacks personality when it should’ve felt like a character on its own. The scenes within the Realm lack real tension, and it never feels quite like the terrifying place Holden tries to claim it is.
But that’s not the show’s real problem. Characterization is. That’s not to say the cast is entirely uninteresting. Holden has a ton of character potential, given that pre-coma he wasn’t even in high school, and he’s 25 post-coma. He has to get to know his family all over again, learning their secrets, all the while navigating what it’s like to be an adult. This tends to be where the series most flourishes. It’s fun to see Holden awkwardly move forward, trying to figure out how to get the girl or trying to get his life together. The turmoil in his family is dramatic in the right ways. Beyond establishes their pain and struggles, and the series successfully builds his mother Diane (Romy Rosemont), his father Tom (Michael McGrady), and brother Luke (Jonathan Whitesell) into three-dimensional characters of their own.
So you might be asking, where exactly is the characterization problem? Well, it doesn’t take long for this good to go flat. Tom gets less interesting as the series goes on, and Holden starts to feel less like a person and more like a caricature. He’s not a strong hero. He’s a confused kid who has no control whatsoever over his destiny. And at points, this is good. After all, he’s just out of a 12-year coma. He doesn’t understand his world. But this shtick can only go on so long before it starts to take its toll on the show.
Meanwhile, Willa (Dilan Gwyn), Holden’s companion in the Realm — which he doesn’t remember when he gets out of his coma — seems to have a bit more control and initiative when it comes to her journey. But the problem is that she and Holden lack chemistry. And it damages their supposed connection so much, deflating any sense of romance. It almost seems like the show is trying to avoid this at points, given Holden’s brief romances with Jamie (Emilija Baranac) and Charlie (Eden Brolin), both of whom he has better chemistry with.
The series revolves around Holden trying to remember his 12 years in the Realm, the 12 years he spent with Willa, the 12 years we are meant to believe they were in love. With such a central point in the series lacking strength, it’s difficult for the other elements to fall into place.
Among those other elements: a set of strange, somewhat interesting villains. Peter Kelamis plays “The Man in the Yellow Jacket,” who is the most prominent villain (albeit not the biggest bad) throughout the 10 episodes. His performance is good, but that’s only if you can ignore the ugly, mustard yellow jacket he almost never takes off. The problem is that he’s not a menacing enough villain to carry Beyond‘s tension. None of the other villains are explored deeply enough to carry the tension either, especially considering how few appearances they have.
One character, Jeff McArdle (Jeff Pierce) almost seems like he could have the juice to be a villain, but that changes soon into the show. He’s one of the show’s most captivating characters, driven by the death of his brother Kevin (Jordan Calloway). It just so happens that Jeff also is the one that put Holden in his coma, making Jeff that much more intriguing. But while Jeff has plenty of depth when it comes to his brother’s death, Holden doesn’t, even though Kevin was his best friend. Holden forgets about his friend’s death so quickly it’s like it didn’t even happen. This was a powerful opportunity for more character depth. If you wake up from a 12-year coma, only to lose one of the few people you really cared about, in theory that’d be devastating. Not to Holden.
That’s just one example of some of the strange gaps in the series. There are moments of development that are glossed over, events that are seemingly forgotten. The threads linking events are thin. And where there could be stronger links, the series instead takes time to introduce very minor characters, such as a pharmacist and a husband and wife duo. These characters have no significance whatsoever, but Beyond takes the time to develop them in ways it doesn’t even do to some of the main cast (for instance: Arthur (Alex Diakun), Willa’s grandfather, and Daniel (Patrick Sabongui), Arthur’s assistant). The pharmacist is actually a very interesting, if not gimmicky, character. However, the pharmacist’s role could have easily been fulfilled by one of Beyond‘s other characters. It’s just strange that the writers chose to build up random people rather than focusing on the characters sorely in need of development.
Beyond also could have spent that time better establishing the supernatural foundation. By the end of the 10-episode first season, we know very little about the Realm and the powers behind it. There’s potential there, but the series never uses it.
That’s just how Beyond works. Build up the basics, forget the development, and move on to other things. It’s a series that has a lot of potential but little punch. The first season is mostly about Beyond finding itself as a show. Its tone bounces around, from jump scares to comedy to emotional drama to odd flashbacks and flashy-but-imperfect visuals, with little transition.
The finale opens up seams to a new story for a potential season two — if it gets renewed, that is. For now, Freeform should be glad it released the episodes for binge-watchers online. The show has enough pros and mysteries to keep attention when binge watching, but it’s doubtful those who view the show when it airs week-to-week will remain interested.