Friday, September 15, 2023

Wilderness, on Prime

Marriage, ambition, commitment—in the real world these things all lead to happiness, stability, and success. However, in the new subgenre of post-Gone Girl “unreliable narrator” thrillers, these never contribute to happy endings. This time around, Olive “Liv” Taylor (not Tyler) will explain the source of her scorn to viewers and show us what she did about it in creator Marnie Dickens six-episode Wilderness, based on B.E. Jones’ novel, which starts streaming today on Prime.

Taylor’s home life was a mess growing up, but she thought she was past all that when she married the well-heeled, socially-ingratiating Will Taylor. She even agreed to sideline her journalism career when his hospitality company transfers him to New York. It is a sacrifice, but it comes with the bonus of much more distance between her and her high-strung mother Caryl. Then Taylor discovers her husband cheated on her.

Of course, he makes all the usual excuses and prevarications: it didn’t mean anything, it was a one-time thing, blah blah blah. She sort of maybe believes him, until she discovers it was even worse than she thought. Nevertheless, she agrees to his suggestions of a healing dream vacation to Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and other big western marvels of nature. However, she starts harboring homicidal ambitions, as she relentlessly explains in the ponderously overwritten narration.

would have been a lot more fun if it went for a Hitchcockian vibe rather than emulate the Adrian Lyne-style of sexual thriller exemplified by Deep Water and Fatal Attraction. Dickens’ adaptation (assisted by Matilda Feyisayo Ibini for episode four) cannot seem to decide whether viewers should wish a plague on everyone’s houses or root for Liv Taylor, who increasingly displays sociopathic tendencies, especially as innocent people get swept up in the chaos she unleashes.

However, the extent to which
Wilderness humanizes and even empathizes with Cara Parker, “the other woman,” adds a surprisingly interesting dimension. In fact, Ashley Benson’s portrayal of Parker might be the best thing going for this series. Eric Balfour (the CTU freelancer who used to date Chloe on 24) is probably the second best thing, playing her clueless boyfriend, Garth. Unfortunately, though, we spend must more time with the Taylors, for obvious reasons.

Still, it is entertaining to watch Jenna Coleman’s meltdowns, rage-benders, and stone-cold scheming. The character is schizophrenic, but at least she is never boring. Alas, every possible unflattering character trait applies to Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s impossibly smarmy and cringy Will Taylor, yet women keep sleeping with him.

Frankly, it does not take long for
Wilderness’s lurid voyeurism to crowd its sexual politics out of the picture. It is a mess, but a watchable mess, in a guilty pleasure kind of way. A lot of viewers will keep steaming it, in spite of themselves, bur there are many more rewarding series to spend your time on. Recommended for viewers in the moody for scandalous cheese with pretentions of social relevance, Wilderness premieres today (9/15) on Prime.