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Reviewing a TV series is a bit outside the purview at Gay League, but I was intrigued by its premise after being contacted by executive producer Ada Hasak and Samantha Agnoff of NBC Universal who graciously provided access to screeners of the entire series. Eyewitness airs Sundays at 10/ 9 central starting 10/16 on the USA Network. Eyewitness is an adaptation of the award winning six part Norwegian crime drama Oyevitne.

Eyewitness follows two teen boys, Philip Shea and Lukas Waldenbeck, living in the small town of Tivoli in upstate New York. Tivoli looks like the picture perfect place to raise a family in the opening scene as it cuts between Sheriff Helen Torrance, Philip’s new foster mother, driving around Tivoli in her patrol vehicle while listening to an audio book on how to raise a foster child (“A good way to establish a bond with your child is through the ritual of the family meal”) and Lukas performing motocross stunts against the backdrop of a lake and forest while an awed Philip captures it all to upload on the former’s social media.

Bucolic charm aside, anyone can have secrets and terrible things can happen anywhere. Philip and Lukas have been in a tentative relationship and Lukas is overly concerned that their secret will be found out and he’ll lose everyone and everything in his life. Lukas’ concern reaches a fever pitch while they’re in passionate throes at his father’s nearby cabin and headlights alert he and Philip of a car’s approach. Fearing it’s Lukas’ father, the boys hide separately. The boys should be so lucky! Instead, they become witnesses to a grisly triple murder and it’s only sheer luck, adrenaline, and a handy frying pan that lets them escape alive after Philip is discovered by the killer. Despite Philip’s desire to tell Helen, Lukas compels him to stay quiet for fear that their relationship will be found out and now the boys bear the burden of two secrets, each one complicating the other.

Divulging the killer’s identity early on to viewers puts the focus on the characters, their pasts, their current relationships, and the meaning of families. Helen and her husband Gabe, the local veterinarian doctor, are a study in contrasts. Helen has a secret that drove her from a job as homicide detective in Buffalo and its lingering emotional effects are coloring her present actions as she becomes more obsessed with solving this case despite being told to stop by the FBI; she has trouble relating with her deputy Tony as well as Philip whom she thinks has a habit of lying; and she’s uncertain if she’s ready or even able to be a mother. On the other hand, Gabe is like an open book; he isn’t driven by his job; makes the effort to get along with everyone and is understanding and empathetic; he’s eager to become a father to Philip. Gabe is as near perfect as a man, a husband, and a father can be. While Gabe is certainly likeable, quite adorable even, at times I found myself at odds with the character and hoping for some flaw. The closest he comes to one is when he accidentally finds a key to a storage locker Helen has kept on the sly and almost opens the box containing evidence of Helen’s life changing secret. I think I subconsciously envied Gabe as a father figure who so readily accepted a gay son and this feeling played out in a dream in which my father and I set out on a road trip in a truck similar to Gabe’s. My father was by no means abusive or hateful, but he was also never supportive — until this dream. Perhaps such a personal anecdote is out of place in a review. I’ll leave that decision to you.

Philip and Lucas are both only children of single parents and that’s where their similarity ends. Philip is originally from New York City. He and his mother Ann are poor, living in a rundown apartment in a project. Philip had to grow up early because of Ann’s substance abuse problems. Living in a rural town proves difficult for Philip because he’s unashamed of being gay and his fellow students aren’t all that accepting. On the other hand, Lukas appears to be the all American boy next door. He’s native to Tivoli and its Small Town USA culture. Lukas’ mother died when he was six and he raised by his father who can only relate to his son through popularly perceived masculine attributes and family traditions such as an annual turkey hunt and an heirloom watch that belonged to Lukas’ grandfather and the Waldenbecks are anything but poor. Sports and physical activities drive Lukas while the extent for Philip is bike riding which is likely more a recent necessity. Lukas covers his struggles with his sexuality by dating Rose, one of the most popular girls in school and keeps his distance from Philip during school hours.

EYEWITNESS -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tyler Young as Philip Shea, James Paxton as Lukas Waldenbeck -- (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)
EYEWITNESS — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Tyler Young as Philip Shea, James Paxton as Lukas Waldenbeck — (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)

The biggest threat to Philip and Lukas’ relationship comes when they realize the killer is alive and looking for them. No matter how much Philip pleads, Lukas simply can’t be brought to confess to the sheriff that they saw the killer. It’s only when Philip decides to take a drastic action to maintain his integrity and self respect that Lukas relents. The trouble is that Lukas is a less than ideal witness and his inaccuracies are one factor that puts both he and Philip in mortal danger.

Other relationships come into play as the series progresses. Helen and FBI agent Kamilah Davis initially butt heads over jurisdiction of the homicides in the early stages of the investigation but soon become allies if not friends. Agent Davis and her sister Sita’s already strained relationship is tested by consequences of the murders and ultimately suffers for it. Even the love that a local drug kingpin, who figures into the investigation, has for his daughter is revealed in raw and real terms.

Eyewitness is a compelling drama thanks to the talented people involved in it from Adi Hasak as creator, executive producer, writer and showrunner to its individual actors. James Paxton is believable in his role as Lukas grappling with his feelings for Philip and Tyler Young delivers an outstanding performance as Philip and the pair have great chemistry together. Kudos to Hasak for putting them both into perilous situations while ultimately avoiding the trope of turning their love into a tragedy. Julianne Nicholson makes the most of her role by bringing Helen through her emotional journey from a haunted soul to a woman fully embracing life and the new reality of being a mother. My thoughts on Gil Bellow’s portrayal as Gabe are already noted above.

You can find more about Eyewitness on USANetwork and follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. Episodes can be viewed any time online at USA.

Adi Hasak – Creator, executive producer, writer and showrunner
Julianne Nicholson – Helen Torrance
Gil Bellows – Gabe Caldwell
Tyler Young – Philip Shea
James Paxton – Lukas Waldenbeck
Warren Christie – Ryan Kane
Matt Murray – Tony Michaels
Tattiawna Jones – Kamilah Davis
Sita – Amanda Brugel

May 27, 2020
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