Push, Nevada

Push, Nevada would be pretty much a rip-off of David Lynch’s far superior Twin Peaks if not for one quirky twist — it is also an “interactive” game show, inviting viewers to solve the crime at the center of the plot to win a real jackpot of about a million dollars. It is unclear thus far exactly what winning the game entails, since it seems unlikely there will be only one viewer who can “solve” the mystery, based on the clumsy assortment of “clues” offered in the first two episodes.

In Push, Nevada, Affleck and Bailey have come up with a show that is, oddly, both original and formulaic. Even if paying off viewers for their careful attention might be something new, the series’ style and plot are stale. With its rockabilly aesthetic, “eerie” soundtrack, and clipped dialogue, Push is more than a little reminiscent of Twin Peaks, which also followed the exploits and curiosities of a federal agent who enters into the twisted universe of an isolated small town. But where FBI Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) had some experience investigating murders, Push‘s Agent Jim Prufrock (Chris Isaak look-alike Derek Cecil) emphatically does not: he’s employed by the IRS, and drawn to the titular town by a mysterious fax.

The decision to make Prufrock an agent of the much-maligned IRS is surely provocative, considering ongoing corporate scandals. Great pains are taken in the premiere to show that Prufrock takes his mandate — protecting average-income-bracket Americans from suffering because corporations evade tax responsibilities — very, very seriously. In his encounters with Silas Bodnick (Jon Polito), the crooked manager of the Versailles Casino, Prufrock gives a series of moralizing monologues in which he spells out his belief in the principles of straightforward accounting. While this might strike a chord with today’s audiences, it’s not enough to counter the facts that for most, taxes are a boring subject and, worse, Prufrock’s sincerity is laughable.

That a bookkeeping error might be insufficient motivation for risking his life does not occur to Prufrock because he is bafflingly determined. Jim refuses to leave town, despite repeated warnings from Mary (Scarlett Chorvat), the local hottie he meets at Sloman’s Slow Dance Bar, and stays to uncover just what the strange accounting at the Versailles Casino is covering up. What he finds in Push is a town full of “quirky” denizens and a conspiracy that runs deep and wide. The problem with Push’s cast of characters is that their wackiness seems forced and deliberate. Perhaps, the characters will eventually fly their freak flags more believably and fully. For the moment, they are silly caricatures, badly acted.

For armchair sleuths and conspiracy theorists, Push offers an attractive possibility: actual money for all the time wasted watching bland made-for-TV mysteries, always knowing who committed the crime within the first five minutes. However, this prize will not come easily, for viewers must keep rapt attention during the entire season, accumulating clues from each episode in order to win. Whether or not the tepid drama can support such sustained interest is the true mystery.

The promotion of the show, however, is already intense, including a campaign to implant the title into viewers’ short-term memories. Using so-called “guerilla marketing,” hitchhikers have allegedly been strategically placed at select Los Angeles intersections with signs pleading for a lift to “Push,” which does not exist. If you search for “Push, Nevada” on the internet, you will also find a website for the “Push Convention and Visitor’s Bureau” that is cheesy and quite believable. You can even have the Push Times sent directly to your e-mail inbox. Various flaps about this marketing “push” have made news, due to the extreme and deliberate blurring of the lines between advertising, editorial content, and everyday life.

Running somewhat counter to this cryptic, if aggressive, advertising strategy, the show has already dumbed itself down. In a repeat of the pilot presented as the lead-in to Thursday’s new episode, the clues were outlined in red boxes– beating any joy out of the process of discovering the game. The show’s makers appear to think viewers are too unsophisticated to figure out that repeated number sequences and a flashing web address during the opening credits are clues. The apparent desperation behind making the clues even more obvious a second time around contradicts the producers’ assertion that the drama is more fascinating than the game show aspect. Really, neither the concept nor the plot is that interesting. Instead of being dragged into Push, Nevada, buy a lottery ticket and rentTwin Peaks.