Big Sky (2 stars)

Big Sky

A twist-heavy and cringe-friendly crime drama that feels both outlandish and exploitative

For a while now, viewers of TV drama have realised the wisdom of withholding complete trust on middling to major characters. For some it might have started at any point during 24's twist-heavy seasons when it transpired that goodies were actually baddies all along (or were they…?). For others, it might have occurred with Game Of Thrones and a particular state execution that proved all bets were off when it came to the security of big names. Despite that, you may still be taken aback at the turn of events in Big Sky (one of three new series launched simultaneously by Star, the new TV and film wing of Disney+).

In this small-screen adaptation by David E Kelley of CJ Box's novel The Highway, two sisters and a non-binary prostitute find themselves in a spot of bother when they get on the bad side of cow-prod wielding trucker Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty) in a remote part of Montana. Despite their disappearance (on the back of several other missing person cases in the area), law enforcement doesn't seem especially fussed about leaping into action. None of which is helped by the fact that the three terribly photogenic private detectives (played by Katheryn Winnick, Kylie Bunbury and Ryan Phillippe) are in something of a tug-of-love. Other curious characters include Ronald's Mrs Bates-esque mother (Valerie Mahaffey) and the chirpy yet enormously passive-aggressive highway patrol officer Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch).

But it's not the playing fast and loose with audience expectations and emotions that come close to being the biggest crime here: the details and motivations and (whisper it) credibility of the exchanges and scenarios are stretched way beyond disbelief (a state trooper with a bow and arrow?!). Plus, the elongated sequences of young women in obvious distress at their potential fate borders on exploitative. Hampered by a fairly dire country-rock soundtrack, the show lays on some very dodgy dialogue on us: one law-woman grits her teeth and threatens a possible religious cult leader with the words: 'I'm a wreck. A wreck with a gun….an armed wreck!' We get the point: she's not happy and she has a weapon.

Similarly lacking in subtlety is the possible warped relationship between the trucker and his mother. Sure, they snuggle up to each other a little too closely in her bed after she spends most of their scenes laying into him psychologically about his failings in life. But when she suggests that he 'masturbates himself' in order to relieve some of his grumpiness, you can almost hear the audible retch from Disney's collective audience. At this point, we're a very long way from The Mickey Mouse Club.

Disney+ Star, starts Tuesday 23 February.

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