The first thing you should know about NBC’s new summer miniseries Persons Unknown is that its creator Christopher McQuarrie also wrote The Usual Suspects. I would have probably been ready to give up after one episode if McQuarrie hadn’t provided one of the most satisfying resolutions to a film in the last couple of decades. I’ve been down this road before, and I’m not sure I could handle another sideways purgatory, dream sequence or alternate reality to explain away what I’ve invested my time and attention to.
It may not be an island, but the castaways from Persons Unknown are stranded in a quaint downtown in some remote valley. They wake up in a hotel with no sign of their abductors and no explanations as to why they’ve been taken. They can check out any time they like—wandering the streets of a ghost town—but they can never leave.
The timing of this series—which was filmed to completion before NBC even bought the rights—is curious, as The Oceanic Six have only just stepped into that eternal light. But the new show is mostly reminiscent of AMC’s recent miniseries The Prisoner, where a little bit of Americana in the middle of the desert reintroduced the idea of being trapped in a fake city. And the ubiquitous cameras give a creepy spin on The Truman Show.
The first episode mostly just establishes the ground rules—don’t pass the city limits or you’ll pass out from a remote medication distribution system; don’t attack the employees of the Chinese restaurant who are just there to feed you; your room key is in the Bible, but a well-placed kick at the door will do—so there’s not much time for character development. They play varying shades of grouchy, from the dipsy party girl who initially assumes she’s been beer-goggling to a rampaging Alan Ruck (Cameron in Ferris Bueller). Most desperate to get away is single mom Janet (Daisy Betts), whose own mother may be involved in the kidnappings somehow.
The premise feels a little forced and the plot feels like a twist on many familiar touchstones. But McQuarrie knows a thing or two about twists and has me curious where he’ll go from here. Maybe I am having a little Lost withdrawal that I would latch on to the first sign of enigma (I even watched a few episodes of Flash Forward out of desperation). Persons Unknown probably isn’t going to fill that void, but unlike The Prisoner, I have a feeling that this one is going to get better as it goes.