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Point Pleasant (2005)
Creators: John McLaughlin and Marti Noxon

review by Tony Lee

Christina Nickson (Elisabeth Harnois, in her first starring role) is washed up on the beach of New Jersey town, Point Pleasant, and her arrival profoundly affects the lives of local residents in varied and sometimes horrible ways. A unique 'birthmark' on her eye suggests that Christina is in fact the daughter of Satan, and therefore destined to bring about the Apocalypse...

Unable to contact her 'absentee father' directly, Christina is happily adopted by the Kramer family: pragmatic doctor Ben (Richard Burgi, a regular on Desperate Housewives), moody daughter Judy (redhead Aubrey Dollar, easily the best performer among the younger cast), and mystic-mum Meg (Susan Walters), still in mourning after the tragic drowning of her other daughter Isabelle (whose ghost appears at key moments). Christina fills the void left in this household by Isabelle's poignant death, and steals the affections of lifeguard and potential hero Jesse Parker (Sam Page), away from self-styled 'princess', haughty Paula (Cameron Richardson) - daughter of monied Amber Hargrove (B-movie favourite Dina Meyer). Christina also manages to befriend or alienate everyone else she meets; there are no middling reactions from the locals. However, while Christina embarks upon a search for her long-lost mother, the appearance in town of mysterious entrepreneur, Lucas Boyd (Grant Show, from sci-fi TV movie Encrypt, 2003), adds further layers of murky intrigue to this supernatural soap opera, and brings welcome shades of grey to bridge the austere black and white moral messages expressed by supporting characters representing the church, science, natural law, and - inevitably - God, too.

Co-creator of this TV series, Marti Noxon, had scripting and producing jobs on Buffy and Angel, and the influence of those hit genre series is much in evidence here, with this show's mix of young adult emotional crises, peculiar characters and supernatural happenings, and a good versus evil backstory. As it reworks many over-familiar elements (pretty young blonde star with a dark secret, for a start), it's possibly no coincidence that, like Joss Whedon's own short-lived Firefly, this sadly uninspired TV series was axed mid-season by the network following a drop in ratings. But does that alone make Point Pleasant a failure? Not quite... Although the show takes far too long to reach cruising speed, and lacks sufficient impact to maintain even the most tolerant viewer's interest until mid-season, a couple of affecting episodes - Unravelling (with its well-timed revelations) and Swimming With Boyd (where heated confrontations finally boil over into outright violence) - convey enough vital story-arc developments to ensure penultimate instalment Mother's Day serves up worthwhile character-based entertainment (including diabolical guile and climactic volte-face betrayals in the Shakespearean manner), before the open-ended yet nonetheless eagerly anticipated final chapter, Let The War Commence, unleashes a handful of clever plot twists, sharp humour from the principal characters, and a satisfying barrage of special effects which, thankfully, do not overwhelm dramatic situations or weird events.

Throughout its nine-hour run, the saga of Point Pleasant features astute references to the likes of De Palma's Carrie (1976), and The Fury (1978), while comparisons to The Omen series (1976-91), and everything else from accursed-female shocker To The Devil A Daughter (1976), to chick-in-peril flick End Of Days, are seemingly unavoidable. With its unhurried build-up of tension and suspense, and early emphasis on character-relationships and young romance over spectacular demonstrations of psychic or occult powers, what this show lacks is a credible narrative flashpoint. Although, following the suspicious disappearance of his devoutly Christian wife Sarah, confirmed atheist and local sheriff Logan Parker (Jesse's unacknowledged step-dad) does challenge a sinister priest (one of several, wholly misguided, Vatican conspirators that lurk in the background), Point Pleasant really needed a proper headlong showdown between the Svengali-like trickster Boyd, and jealous-husband yet honest-cop, Parker. Their only real argument, during Boyd's dinner party, is hardly compelling for today's genre TV, and is one instance of how this show feels too restrained as either a comeback for the antichrist or an understated exploration of end-of-the-world tropes. The theme music composed by Danny Elfman works fine, as does the effectively uncanny title sequence but, regrettably, Point Pleasant crawls when it should sprint towards its blatantly 'predestined' climax, and then compounds its error simply by having so little that's fresh or imaginative to show or tell us when it gets there. This, coupled with an unfortunate tendency for rarely-seen supporting actors to shamelessly babble their expository speeches before vanishing into the scenery again, leaving us to conclude that Point Pleasant was hastily produced from unpolished scripts.

The three-disc DVD boxset delivers the complete series of 13 x 42-minute episodes, including five episodes previously unseen because of the show's cancellation. There's also a standard 'making-of' featurette.
Point Pleasant

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