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David E. Kelley's 'Big Sky' Reminds Us Broadcast TV is Still Offering Great Programming
November 17, 2020  | By David Hinckley  | 6 comments

Memo to TV viewers: The broadcast networks are still in business.

To underscore that point, ABC rolls out the ambitious drama Big Sky at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

It's arguably the first fresh new drama of this COVID-crushed fall season. Fox's Filthy Rich and Next, both of which have already been cancelled, had been held back from last year's midseason.

So ABC is promoting Big Sky as an event, a niche ordinarily reserved for a limited series or a miniseries – and Big Sky definitely takes on some of that aura as its story stretches over multiple episodes.

Basically, it's a crime mystery with elements of a horror tale, set against the gorgeous backdrop of Montana. David E. Kelley wrote it, based on the creepy 2013 best-selling novel The Highway by C.J. Box.

Ryan Phillippe (top) and Kylie Bunbury play Cody Hoyt and Cassie Dewell, private detectives drawn into a case where two teenage sisters, Grace and Danielle Sullivan (Jade Pettyjohn and Natalie Alyn Lind), seem to have gone missing while driving from Colorado to Montana.

Cody gets involved early because his son Justin (Gage Marsh) is the boyfriend of Danielle Sullivan. She was driving to Montana to see him, and when she's way overdue with no messages, Justin calls Dad.

We viewers know more than the detectives, or Justin, and let's just say the disappearance of the Sullivan girls has elements that would not be out of place in a Stephen King story.

The detectives have to figure that out for themselves, however, and at first, they have to do it while dealing with an urgent minidrama in their own lives.

Cody is separated from his wife Jenny (Katheryn Winnick), a former cop. After the separation, Cody and Cassie got together. As Cassie is Jenny's best friend, Jenny does not consider this to be nothing, and it creates tension even as Cody and Cassie need to enlist Jenny's help in the disappearance case.

They also enlist the help of Montana State Trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch), who gives every indication of being a devoted servant of public safety and also seems a little weird.

Rick has his own domestic issues, as his devotion to public safety has exhausted the patience of his wife Merrilee (Brooke Smith). She tells him there must be more to life than this.

Domestic subplots aside, a significant question raised by Tuesday's first episode of Big Sky is exactly where it will be focusing as its ten episodes roll out.

The setup has all the earmarks of a limited series, with the protagonists setting out to solve one central mystery. The open question is whether, along the way, it will spin off into other related mysteries or mostly attempt to untangle the complexities of this one.

What's clear is that Big Sky is selling suspense on its most primal level. Can good people stop bad people before more terrible things happen?

Sustaining that tension over many weeks will be Big Sky's challenge. ABC is betting that the combination of Kelley's narrative skills and the mountains of Montana will keep viewers engaged over many weeks in an age where more and more viewers want the almost-instant gratification of binge-watching.

Big Sky responds with a fast-paced narrative that deftly takes turns the viewer may not see coming. It's got adrenaline. At the very least, it declares that broadcast networks remain in the game.

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Jan 29, 2024   |  Reply
Please excuse the early morning typo. I meant ducted taped. I haven't had my second coffee yet.
Nov 22, 2020   |  Reply
Tune in for women getting tazed in the throat and wrapped in plastic and duck tape.
Yes, "broadcast remain in the game". What game is that exactly?
Nov 22, 2020   |  Reply
I don't understand the boycott attitude some people have towards shows that have *any* violence in them. I much prefer a story that's plausible rather than fairy tales. I want dramas that reflect to a reality that I can believe. Maybe if we lived in a world without violence I wouldn't want to see it either. But acting as if or demanding we act as if it doesn't exist won't make it happen.
Nov 23, 2020
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