USA Network tries to conjure up their own “Twin Peaks” with the highly self-amused mystery series, "Briarpatch" (premiering on February 6). Based on the book by Ross Thomas, the series leans into that comparison by focusing on a small town of eccentrics that leads one detective toward a larger underground conspiracy. They even have the same starting points—a murder mystery. But any comparisons to “Twin Peaks” makes “Briarpatch” sound more fun than it is, especially as it can’t create its own brand of kookiness while relying on a cadre of mildly annoying side characters.
Rosario Dawson is at the center of the show playing an investigator named Allegra, who ventures to the small Texas town of San Bonifacio where she and her sister grew up. In the show’s opening scene, her sister Felicity is blown up in a car bomb outside an apartment complex that she owns, and the strange events begin to pile up from there. When Allegra gets back into town, the quirky details of Briarpatch rush to the surface, including how animals have broken out from the zoo and freely roam around. Allegra finds out about the million-dollar life insurance under her sister’s name, and realizes that she didn’t stay in the apartment she thought she did.
That's only the start, as "Briarpatch" is comprised of a lot of mysteries (weapons deals, corrupt cops) that seemingly cancel each other out when it comes to intrigue. And every now and then it goes back to Allegra grieving for her sister, which like a lot of the stuff that "Briarpatch" thinks is quirky or surprising, is presented with off-putting bluntness.
“Briarpatch” clearly knows how to keep itself busy, but rarely feels like it’s in motion. It’s like a revolving door of different characters for Dawson to have conversations that are twisty but also exposition-heavy ("You're a creep, but you're also a business man. Who paid you?") And there are so many characters in the mix that eventually the conspiracies all kind of converge into mush. It becomes a chore to keep track of all the different people who in one way or another threaten to throw Allegra off course, and eventually you hit a limit of slimy, untrustworthy dudes (like Jake Spivey's Jay R. Ferguson or Brian Geraghty's Gene Colder) before it seems like the whole show doesn't actually have all that much going on.
Created by Andy Greenwald, “Briarpatch” seems to pride itself on throwing in new strange details and characters when it can, but that type of goofy pulp becomes exhausting. Any glimmer of some spirited character work (like Edi Gathegi as a lawyer that Allegra trusts) is snuffed out by the bizarre feeling of watching a show that's so kooky and yet so stagnant.
Four episodes screened for review.