Marti Noxon wrote three of my top 20 “Buffy” episodes – second to only Joss Whedon – and in recent years she struck gold again with the inside-reality-TV drama “UnReal.” She worked on a lot of shows in between, but the most interesting – and the most interesting failure, unfortunately — is “Point Pleasant” (2005, Fox; available on DVD), on which she was the executive producer along with John J. McLaughlin.
My enjoyment of last fall’s “The Exorcist” made me want to re-investigate this show – of which I had watched a few episodes, but didn’t remember much – because of its similar themes and iconography. Whereas Regan and Casey are possessed by the Devil, Christina (Elisabeth Harnois) is the daughter of the Devil. This isn’t a surprise – it’s revealed in the show’s promotional materials – but that’s OK because part of the pleasure of the religious horror genre is the mood.
The 13-episode “Point Pleasant” starts strong in this regard. The opening scene features a storm that sweeps onto the New Jersey shore out of nowhere, like the start of a Stephen King miniseries. As we later learn, Christina fell off a cruise ship, but the opening shot makes it seem like she fell into the ocean from heaven, mirroring Satan’s fall from grace. Subsequent episodes give us trappings like a 666 birthmark on Christina’s iris, a dead flock of crows, a twisted-backward head in a dream, and a death where the body is sprawled in the pose of a crucifixion.
So why does it ultimately feel so empty? Partly it’s because it seems less money is spent on locations as the series goes forward. The flirty beach scenes in early episodes contrast nicely with the ominous church hallways to deliver an “O.C.”-meets-“The Omen” feel. Some backlots feel like those from “Buffy,” as do some of the mini-cliffhanger cuts-to-commercial. But later episodes spend most of the time inside houses. While Noxon never intended for “Point Pleasant” to have a distinct theme each week, it feels too much like a redundant soap opera as it moves along: Christina is troubled by something and behaves somewhat darkly, and Devil’s minion Boyd (Grant Show) is nearby, pleased with her progress toward her dark destiny.
It’s not hard to watch Harnois (later of “C.S.I.”), the classic cute troubled girl you wish you could somehow comfort, or Show (later of a much better one-season wonder, “Swingtown”), who blends charming and smarmy so effortlessly that I want to invent the word “smarming.” Early on, there’s decent soapy drama between town sexpot Dina Meyer (from a worse one-season wonder, “Birds of Prey”) and married man Richard Burgi (the evil Alan York in Season 1 of “24”). Very briefly, Judy (Aubrey Dollar) and a new kid in town (Matt Lanter of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”) hit it off, but he’s immediately revealed to be a bland soldier in the religious war against Christina.
Boyd gets a hint of depth when we discover in episode 5 that he’s a demon, given eternal life (and a resurrected wife) in the 1920s after killing his wife in anger. Adam Busch (Warren on “Buffy”) is always lurking around as Boyd’s henchman, giving off a vibe like he has a backstory too (He doesn’t). Christina’s love interest, Jesse (Sam Page) is also immortal, for some reason.
We don’t meet Christina’s father (the Devil, as noted) or mother, even though part of the premise is that she’s looking for her mother in Point Pleasant. (Maybe we meet her mother, but it’s unclear if it’s really her mother or just a woman whose brain is controlled by Team Vatican for the sake of capturing Christina.)
Despite “Buffy/Angel” veterans Ben Edlund and Diego Gutierrez each writing an episode and Noxon penning three, “Point Pleasant” doesn’t amount to anything substantial. In dialogue, characters occasionally broach an interesting concept; Boyd equates evil with being free, with no fear and no love. Now and then, someone delivers a fun line. Boyd says his wife is “a little tied up right now” when we know she is bound in the wine cellar. A couple of baddies share a toast: “To the future.” “Or lack thereof.” Boyd says “This world was an experiment and it failed. Burn it down.” All potentially good stuff; all empty.
The portents are weighty. In addition to the evocative storm that opens the series, we learn Judy’s sister committed suicide because she knew the apocalypse was coming. A doctor backs out of an upper-floor window to her death just because Christina is approaching her.
It feels like the five DVD-exclusive episodes are treading water until a final showdown. And boy does it fail to deliver on the weight of the portents. Christina uses her powers to blind one character and tear a house down. Fair enough if the terror was always supposed to be contained to Point Pleasant, but while the writers sometimes suggest this is a local problem, they regularly pepper in end-of-the-world talk as well. The show lacks a consistent scope.
To paraphrase Boyd, “Point Pleasant” was an experiment and it failed.