Harry Wyckoff -
Grace Wyckoff -
Paige Katz -
Senator Kreutzer -
Josie Ito -
Tabba Schwartzkopf -
Chickie Levitt -
Eli Levitt -
Patent attorney Harry Wykoff finds himself dragged into a surreal conflict between two organisations locked in a battle to the death over the future of television, reality and power when an old lover introduces him to a Senator who runs the first virtual reality television station and is head of his own religion.
Most people associate WILD PALMS with producer Oliver Stone, though it comes from the mind of Bruce Wagner from whose comic strip it is taken and who is the writer. An unholy mash up of DALLAS and TWIN PEAKS with added technology, it takes a dysfunctional family saga and weaves it into a global conspiracy in which religion, power and reality are combined through the use of virtual reality television and experimental drugs. All of which sounds exciting, but which stumbles heavily in the execution.
WILD PALMS plays with some big themes, but it never manages to pull them together into a cohesive whole, not least because it submerges the story under a deluge of unnecessary imagery such as the rhinoceros in the swimming pool, the waving palms and the cathedrals. Is there a point to any of this imagery? No not really, at least not that is explained. It's all to create a sense of unreality, a place where anything might be possible because the whole of reality is being undermined. But when the whole thing might just be a dream then it's hard to care about anything.
Even so, this five part mini-series (the first part being feature length) has pulled together a quality cast. James Belushi is the notional star at the centre of the story, but it is Angie Dickinson who comes up with the most memorable character in the shape of the unutterably evil Josie. Kim Cattrall and Dana Delaney are the two women fighting over Harry and Robert Loggia and David Warner are the two men fighting over the fate of the world. You certainly can't fault a cast list that throws away the talents of Bebe Neuwirth and Brad Dourif.
The use of modern technology to brainwash the world through television is not so farfetched as all that, especially when you add in the experimental drug that brings the virtual reality characters to life and even the Go chip with its potential to keep a mind alive as one of those virtual reality characters forever has a certain plausibility, but the lack of proper explanations for most of this undermines the believability of it all and the TV show at the centre of everything Church Windows is likely only to brainwash people into turning to another channel.
Lapses in storytelling logic and the simple need to tell the story rather than drown it in stylistic directorial twitches (from well known directing quartet Kathryn Bigelow, Peter Hewitt, Keith Gordon and Phil Joanou) is ignored.
In the end, WILD PALMS would like to be TWIN PEAKS, but lacks the wit and the warmth of that show and being too self-conscious of its own bizarre qualities.Top
Everything Must Go
Harry Wyckoff appears to have it all in Los Angeles 2007. He is a successful patent attorney expecting to make partner, has a gorgeous wife, two kids and a nice house. There are clouds on the horizon of his world, such as the recurring dream of the rhinoceros, the fact that he can't successfully make love to his wife and his daughter won't speak, but that is nothing as to what happens when an old lover walks back into his office and his life. Paige's son has been missing for five years and she wants Harry to help find him. This chance encounter leads to a meeting with Senator Kreutzer, head of the huge TV network Channel 3 which is about to launch Church Windows, the world's first virtual reality TV show.
Also involved with the Senator is Harry's mother-in-law, the constantly facelifted Josie who is also in the habit of blinding artists and killing thier sisters. There's a wild man who is locked in an artificial reality world, an absent father and two organisations, the Friends and the Fathers, who seem to be at war and use kidnapped children as their battleground. When Harry loses his job and accepts a new one with Kreutzer, he is sucked deeper into a world of shadows where not everything is as it seems.
Although produced by Oliver Stone, this series is really the creation of Bruce Wagner, from whose comic strip it is taken. It is easy to see why it appealed to Stone, though, with its coruscating plot of conspiracies and altered perception. In this feature-length opening episode, there is a strong sense of the surreal. People are taken off the streets and out of restaurants without any curiosity from those around them. People share the same dreams in which the rhinoceros is apparently all that remains of the unicorn. The first words of the hero's little girl are the same as the Senator uses whilst telling a story about his dead father.
None of which has any explanation. There are many disparate more conventional mystery/thriller elements going on such as the mysterious, competing organisations, the corporate intrigues over the new 3D/virtual reality technology, the kidnapping of the artist's sister and his subsequent blinding, the links between Paige, Josie and the Senator. All of these elements slowly come together into a patchwork that is part of a bigger picture, but a picture that we have not yet been allowed to see.
The production design also works to put the show slightly off-kilter. Though set fourteen years in the future, everyone drives old style cars and the costuming throws back more to the fifties than forward to any theoretical future.
The performances from the cast (and what a cast) vary from the good to the stilted, sometimes from the same actor, again adding to the off-key, bizarre surreality of it all. With the likes of Belushi, Robert Loggia, Angie Dickinson, Dana Delaney and Kim Cattrall in the cast, all of whom are accomplished performers, this can only hope to be planned and explained in future episodes.
The mystery of what all this means and where it is going is intriguing, but there is also a sense that the show is trying to be TWIN PEAKS but without the humour, all too aware of its own quirks and bizarreness. Only time will tell.Top
The Floating World
A suicide attempt by Grace is narrowly averted. The first test of the Church Windows holographic TV show goes well for Channel 3. Harry is sent to Kyoto with Paige to negotiate for a computer chip, but things do not go well. Grace learns more about her 'son' and Harry learns more about his father.
There is more of a conventional thriller feel to this episode than the series opener as conspiracies continue to emerge. The Senator is revealed to be the head of the Fathers aided by Josie and Paige whilst Grace's father is active in the Friends, as is one of Harry's workmates Gavin who soon meets a sticky end in a psychologically nasty sequence. The matter of fact way in which Josie beats the hell out of her own daughter to ensure compliance is also surprisingly brutal.
The actual point of all these conspiracies and whispers is yet to be made clear, but seems to revolve around the experimental drug that allows the viewer to interact with the projected holograms and an advanced computer chip that the Senator needs and the Japanese aren't about to give to him. It's because of the chip that the Brad Dourif character is being held by the Fathers.
Because of the reduced bizarreness, these episode is more accessible and the mysteries remain intriguing, but we are going to need some sort of explanations sooner rather than later.Top
Following his being marked with a tattoo of a palm tree in Kyoto, Harry's hand bothers him. Not as much as the rest of his life as he gets conflicting information about what is going on. Grace is with her father, who has escaped from the Senator's hospital and Tommy, who has escaped from jail. The only person that remains to be freed is Chickie Levitt, who seems to have all the answers about the 'Go' chip.
Answers are starting to tumble out, but many of them are conflicting, leaving the audience almost as confused as the characters as to what is real and what is not. What is clear is that the mystery of the show has now been infused with a twisted family soap opera as everyone seems to be either related to or involved with everyone else. As the episode title suggests, it's especially about sons. Eli Levitt attempts to get his son back, Harry learns some things about his father's death that he probably wouldn't want to know and the truth is learned about Coty's parentage in a well handled with Kim Cattrall's character coming somewhat unglued and not sure about which side she ought to be on.
This episode was directed by Kathryn Bigelow (oscar-winner for THE HURT LOCKER) and the action sequence as the rescue attempt for Chickie takes place is the liveliest that the show has gotten so far, but hardly convinces. The surreal imagery continues as Tommy's hallucinations of cathedrals strikes at the worst possible moment and there is a bizarre moment as a comedian launches into a routine that is as completely without humour as it is without point.
There is also a nice cliffhanger at the end.Top
The Senator marries Paige and sets about getting ready for the campaign for his election to the Presidency. Grace is murdered, but the killer is not aware that the act has been filmed. Harry finally decides where his loyalties lie and sets out to bring down the Senator and the Fathers. His first act is to interrupt the transmission of Church Windows in order to put a virtual reality murder in everyone's home.
The surreality of the show is reducing with each episode as the plot picks up pace and the answers come thick and fast. The truth about the identity of Grace and Harry's son comes as no surprise, but it does close the family circle. Now that everyone's relationships are revealed, the show gets on with the narration. Harry getting into Channel 3 is fairly unconvincing since he has to deal with only one security guard and one technical manager. Considering the importance of the show to the Senator you would have expected at least more technical back up than a single engineer running the desk.
This is the penultimate episode and it will be interesting to see how things work out.Top
Hello, I Must Be Going
Following the transmission of the murder of Grace, the conspiracy of the Fathers is failing. The Senator has one last card to play - Harry's daughter Deirdra. Whilst Josie invites her ex-husband to dinner and factions within the Fathers look only after their own agendas, the Senator swaps the chip that he believes will make him immortal for the little girl.
WILD PALMS comes to an end as all the threads that it has been playing with come together in a welter of last minute action. Admittedly, the action is couched in all manner of imagery and surreal nonsense, but the plot at least makes some sort of sense as revenge is the motive that takes over and leads to the end of most of the major characters.
The only major flaw is the final confrontation between Harry and the Senator, which falls completely flat. The action that Harry has taken is reasonable, but that his real son turns out to be a computer genius is a bit of a leap and the final confrontation should have been something a bit more epic than what we are presented with.
WILD PALMS was certainly its own animal, going its own way and not compromising, but it is unlikely that anyone will want to go there again.Top
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