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Bunberry! Winnick! Phillippe! ABC's 'Big Sky' Is Just What the Messy Bitch Ordered

By Dustin Rowles | TV | November 18, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | November 18, 2020 |


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I’ve only seen the pilot of Big Sky, so far, but if I had to describe the opening hour of the show, I’d say that it was a little bit of Northern Exposure crossed with a hint of Twin Peaks crossed with Young and the Restless, a dash of Yellowstone and a dose of MTV’s Spring Break. I have no idea if the series is any good yet, but it is a blast to watch.

The series comes from David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Undoing, Mr. Mercedes, Goliath), who appears to be the only television writer working these days. Kelley is one of my favorites, and besides legal dramas, he’s always had a modest fascination with shows set in small towns, dating back to his work on Picket Fences and in subsequent series like Harry’s Law and movies like Lake Placid and the crowd-pleaser Mystery, Alaska. But even when Kelley dabbles in rural America, he always teases out the oddballs.

Enter Big Sky, set in Montana, where there’s only one state trooper in a long 100-mile stretch of the state but apparently three private detectives, all of whom work together. Katheryn Winnick (Vikings), Kylie Bunbury (Pitch) and Ryan Phillipe star as Jenny, Cassie, and Cody, respectively. Jenny and Cody are married but on a break, and Cassie and Cody are sleeping together, much to the chagrin of Jenny, who learns of this affair in the pilot episode. She’s none too pleased with her best friend, Cassie, or her husband, Cody, although by the midpoint in the pilot, she’s banging her husband again after she gets into a bar fight with Cassie.

There’s a lot going on in this episode.

Meanwhile, Brian Geraghty plays Ronald Pergman, who looks like the Patrick Bateman of truck drivers. He’s 38, he lives at home, dresses well, and he has a sort of Norman Bates relationship with his disapproving mother. He also picks up prostitutes at truck stops and abducts them, which tbh was telegraphed by the casting of Brian Geraghty.

Ronald and Cody’s storylines converge when Danielle (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Grace (Jade Pettyjohn) are abducted by Ronald when their car breaks down while traveling into Montana. Danielle and Grace were expected in Big Sky, but when they didn’t show on time, Cody, Jenny, and Cassie began searching for them, which initially puts Cody in contact with a state trooper, Rick (John Carroll Lynch), who is having problems at home with his wife, Merilee (Brooke Smith of Grey’s Anatomy), who is not being touched enough to her liking.

It’s a jam-packed pilot, and as serious as the subject material is, it feels like everyone is a comic-relief character, while Winnick and Bunbury are additionally Pajiba-10 worthy. I haven’t even gotten to the WHAT? WHAT! twist at the end of the episode yet, which takes Big Sky to another level altogether. There are major spoilers here, so if you’re interested in watching Big Sky, and you like to be surprised, and you can keep your curiosity at bay, I strongly suggest skipping the rest of the article.

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At the end of the episode, when Ryan Phillippe’s character, Cody, joins forces with the mild-mannered state trooper to go searching for the two missing women, the state trooper gets into Cody’s truck and then … shoots Cody in the face point blank. They killed off the biggest name in the show in the opening episode, which is a real ballsy MI:5/Spooks move. No one sees it coming, and it is not a fake-out: Phillippe’s character is dead. He has confirmed it himself online, saying that he couldn’t do the entire series because of scheduling difficulties.

And while Phillippe is the biggest name on the series, he’s certainly not the most interesting — Winnick and Bunbury are far more compelling — so the surprise twist does not come at the expense of the series, which I should mention is based on the novel, The Highway, by C.J. Box.

My biggest concern, so far, remains how well Big Sky can maintain this pace. It’s a lot of fun, but given the speed of its developments, it may have run into some Ryan Murphy issues, where it chews through so much plot so quickly that it jumps completely off the rails by midseason. All the same, I’m going to ride this train until it derails over shark-infested waters.




Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.



Header Image Source: ABC