Look, sometimes you just want a big prime time drama on a (free!) network that is also a murder mystery and takes place somewhere with a view. ABC’s Big Sky is all of that, a flashy show full of capital-D Drama. Still, despite copious establishing shots and some mountains, it doesn’t feel particularly Montanan; it’s not even remotely Twin Peaks-y regardless of its diners and fir trees. But it has lots of pretty people, a damn fine twist at the end of its opening hour, and I would have easily binged it had that been an option.
It was not, because ABC only sent out two episodes for review. Almost everything in those two episodes—from the very first minute onward—is a spoiler, except to say that three detectives (Kylie Bunbury, Katheryn Winnick, and Ryan Phillippe) quickly get involved in a case to find two missing teen girls (Natalie Alyn Lind, Jade Pettyjohn) in the hinterlands of Montana. There’s also a long-haul truck driver (Brian Geraghty), a state trooper (Brian Carroll Lynch), and a non-binary sex worker (Jesse James Keitel) in the mix. Let’s go!
There are many things in David E. Kelley’s scripts for these first two episodes that are old-school tropes where some of his worst instincts are at play, and the show features an almost incredible lack of nuance. But it’s not because this is a network drama—you can see some of the same beats play out in Kelley’s other current TV drama, HBO’s The Undoing. The series both feature excellent casts forced to say some very clunky dialogue, and yet both are also undeniably captivating. Big Sky’s story in particular starts small and immediately begins to spiral outwards, building a network of familiar characters and connections that are nevertheless satisfying. It’s not prestige TV, but occasionally a show that just casually drops a mention of a missing girl being tied to a cult as surprising because “I didn’t think it was in that part [of Montana]” is just what the TV doctor ordered. Montana! Quaint towns, Yellowstone, terrifying killers, beautiful vistas, cults. Per Hollywood, anyway (and Far Cry 5).
There is one major flaw in Big Sky: A few shoehorned mentions of “pandemic times.” No one on the show wears masks or socially distances or seems to have been affected at all by a global pandemic, so maybe we just let this live in an alternate reality? Please? Does COVID need to infect every TV show, or can we get a break and just live in a picturesque fantasy murder town for a little bit?
Despite some of the more ridiculous parts of Big Sky—or maybe because of them—the show is genuinely worth investigating based on its first two episodes. And you will want to watch it when it airs so you aren’t spoiled by the many twists that will undoubtedly immediately hit social media. For a little while, until it potentially runs fully off the rails, we might finally have a grab-your-popcorn drama to discuss at the virtual watercooler again, folks. And that’s big.
Big Sky premieres Tuesday, November 17th at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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