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REVIEW: 'Big Sky' keeps mystery's tension at a horror-film high

REVIEW: 'Big Sky' keeps mystery's tension at a horror-film high

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Just when you thought it wasn’t safe to binge a network show, David E. Kelley arrives with “Big Sky.”

Full of twists and turns (and a huge pilot-ending surprise), the new drama suggests there’s a sex trafficking problem in Montana and it could have something to do with those trucks you see on the highway late at night.

Based on “The Highway” by C.J. Box, the ABC drama has bits of “Twin Peaks,” dabs of “Northern Exposure” and a whole lot of “Halloween” in its arsenal.

When two sisters are reported missing, detectives Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) and Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe) start an investigation.

Hoyt’s estranged wife, Jenny (Katheryn Winnick), gets pulled in, too, and soon there’s a rash of cases to unpack.

Kelley gives the team lots of evidence and a supporting cast that provides plenty of quirk. Among the most watchable: Trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch), an old-school law man who calls his wife “mother.” There’s trouble at home, as well, but that takes a back seat to the run-and-gun drama that occurs when the two girls have car problems and wind up somewhere on a road bound for Yellowstone.

Director Paul McGuigan isn’t afraid to use a few horror film hallmarks (wait for the screaming) and the kind of tension that comes when folks spend too much time at a bar.

The detectives seem efficient (and willing to engage in extra-curricular activity); the staff provides plenty of dimension. Denise Brisbane (a fun Dedee Pfeiffer) works around the clock helping share information.

Because there’s so much to this community (wait until you meet Jesse James Keitel’s Jerrie), you don’t get all the characters right away. Like that winding highway, they go on and on.

One of the first series to start up during the pandemic, “Big Sky” references coronavirus and shows how others are coping. Many don’t social distance (you’ll see what we mean) but they do consider the consequences.

Bunbury, Winnick and Phillippe aren’t the squeaky triangle you’d expect but they attack the case head on – and discover plenty of ties that bind.

Kelley says “Big Sky” will have short-term mysteries that don’t take 20 episodes to unfold. Considering streaming has changed viewer habits, that’s a plus. With a canvas this big, trouble has to be lurking behind those big trees, that dark town and, yes, those imposing semis.

The downside? There’s only one new episode each week.

Thankfully, Kelley makes “Big Sky” worth the wait.

“Big Sky” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC.

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