A funny thing happened on the way to writing a slam-piece about Point Pleasant. There I was, making sarcastic remarks about how Elizabeth Harnois, who plays Christina, must have filmed the pilot about halfway through acting school, and cracking jokes about the Jersey Shore being the perfect setting for a show about the End of Times, when I realized something: not only was I a lot more involved in this show than I should have been, but I was actually digging it. And if you like programming with some balls, then so should you.
Most of the early reviews have said Point Pleasant looks like The O.C. with an American Gothic jones. This is because the show takes place during the summer in a beach town, so hot girls in bikinis lounge in the sun while ripped dudes with perfect hair guard lives, and because Christina’s arrival in town coincides with all types of bad mojo. A lot of critics associate bikinis with stupidity and bad mojo with bad writing. But those connections don’t quite fit Point Pleasant, because creators/writers Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and John J. McLaughlin (Touching Evil) are less interested in the newest teen sensation than the Apocalypse. If nothing else, that makes their show a little grand.
The action begins as Christina washes up in the Point Pleasant surf during a major storm, rescued by golden boy Jesse Parker (Samuel Page). He brings her to the home of Dr. Ben Kramer (Richard Burgi), his wife Meg (Susan Walters), and their daughter Judy (Aubrey Dollar). When Christina wakes up, she has no place to go (her father is away on business and she’s never known her mother), so the Kramers let her stay. (If you find yourself thinking that this sounds a little too close to how Ryan lands with the Cohens on The O.C., I hear you, but please, suppress that thought.) From here, Christina tries to figure out her mother’s past and why the people closest to her get hurt when she gets angry.
Thanks to a conversation between Kingston (James Morrison), the man Christina thinks is her father, and the uber-slimy Lucas (Grant Show, surprisingly good in his first recognizable role since Melrose Place), we find that there’s a damn good reason Christina has always felt “off.” As Lucas puts it, she’s “the child of darkness,” the offspring of Satan and a mortal woman, and the single most important instrument in the coming Judgment. You see, Christina and Point Pleasant have been named in a number of prophecies and sacred texts as the respective trigger and seat of the Apocalypse, and Lucas is convinced that everything’s lining up perfectly for Hell’s legions. However, Kingston reminds him, “[Christina] takes after her mother. Always has. She’ll never be what you want her to be… so long as she has that good heart.” Lucas replies, “We’ll see how long that good heart lasts. Let the world have its way with her. Once it does, I guarantee you, she’ll bring it to its knees.”
In the macro sense, we’ve got good versus evil on the grandest scale, with the fate of all immortal souls at stake; in the micro view, there’s a young girl forced to deal with the Skywalker dilemma of denying the family business or turning away from something that feels right (Christina freely admits that a part of her likes it when “the bad things happen”). You can call it familiar territory or soppy melodrama. But you can’t call it bad story construction and poor writing. It’s a promising thriller storyline and it’s substantially darker than Fox’s other youth-targeted fare. If the two-part premiere is any indication, Point Pleasant aims to talk about Big Things, to do it seriously, and, most importantly, to allow young characters to do it as much as, if not more than, older ones.
Here’s the thing: kids think about stuff like whether Heaven exists or there’s a God, and whether all of reality was created according to one big divine plan; maybe not as often as they think about popularity or the prospect of sex or getting into a good college, but they do. Point Pleasant presents a broad spectrum of attitudes toward the Big Things (theology, philosophy, teleology), a view decidedly more complex than the often catechistic Joan of Arcadia. In the first two episodes, we’ve already seen four clearly marked moral stances: the strong Christian faith of young Father Thomas (Marcus Coloma); the outright hedonism of Jesse’s girlfriend Paula (Cameron Richardson) and best friend Terry (Brent Weber); Jesse’s wistful agnosticism (when Christina asks if he believes things happen for a reason, Jesse answers, “Well, that’s what they say in church, but no. I wish that I did.”); and Lucas’ hardline Hobbesian view (“Fact is, we’re all basically bad. We all crane our necks to see the bloody corpse at the car wreck, and we all put down our disappointment when nobody’s hurt”). Half-breed Christina believes she’s fundamentally good yet is unable to deny the evil bubbling up inside her, neatly embodying the fence-straddling urge in all of us. She could go either way, and so can we.
Yes, Point Pleasant has its warts. Though the teen actors show promise, they’ve got a long way to go (for example, Harnois’ “puzzled” looks an awful lot like her “scared,” which bears a striking resemblance to her “angry,” which can make it kind of difficult to figure out if Christina’s mad, sad, confused, or about to set something on fire). It remains to be seen how the series might maintain the suspense levels of the first episodes, and the open-endedness of Christina’s mother’s backstory frightens me a little. But Point Pleasant could be the most subversive drama to hit primetime since Twin Peaks. And if it ends up cancelled after one season, it won’t be for lack of ambition. And for that, it deserves our support.