Tuned In: 'Intruders' a tough nut to crack

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — In the post-“Lost” era, it’s not unusual for a drama series to get introduced like a giant jigsaw puzzle that’s missing a lot of its pieces. But most dark mythology-heavy shows at least offer something for viewers to grab onto. Maybe you get all the border pieces and enough of the puzzle interior so you can start to make a little sense of what’s happening.

That’s not the case with BBC America’s “Intruders” (10 p.m. Saturday), which barely acknowledges what it’s about in its first episode.

Based on the novel “The Intruders” by Michael Marshall Smith and adapted for TV by Glen Morgan, whose most recent series was the filmed-in-Pittsburgh flop “Those Who Kill,” “Intruders” offers a dark and disturbing story set mostly in the Pacific Northwest. But don’t think there’s a “Twin Peaks” vibe here. “Twin Peaks” had some lighter moments; there’s no humor in “Intruders,” which features stalkings, killings and a child murdering a pet for no clear reason.

The story begins in Barstow, Calif., in 1990. A young woman celebrates her birthday and then at night, a creepy dude named Richard Shepherd (James Frain, “The Tudors”) breaks into her house, terrorizes her, leaves a calling card and a bus ticket and departs. The next morning the young woman slits her wrists in the bathtub.

In present-day Seattle, Shepherd pretends to be an FBI agent to gain access to the home of Bill Anderson and brutally murders Anderson’s wife and son. Then Shepherd goes to their basement and emerges from it with smoke billowing behind him because … why exactly?

An Oregon girl celebrates her birthday at the coast and then gets a visit from Shepherd, who holds up a sand dollar, which means … what exactly?

Then there’s former LAPD cop Jack Whelan (John Simm, “Life on Mars”), whose wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino), vanishes after he finds her listening to jazz music.

“I thought you hated jazz,” Jack says to Amy.

“It was private,” she replies cryptically.

When Jack kisses Amy her pupils get huge, a common trait among some folks in “Intruders” who may be … what exactly?

Luckily, the show’s press notes offer a clue — “‘Intruders’ is about a secret society devoted to chasing immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of others” — but viewers without benefit of such an explainer are sure to be lost.

The show does begin to fill in a few blanks, particularly the immortality angle, in its second episode, but it’s still a slow, sometimes tedious process.

At a press conference last month during the TV critics summer press tour, director Eduardo Sanchez compared the “Intruders” pilot to the end of “The Blair Witch Project.”

“We keep that tradition of not telling anything that’s going on,” he said. “It’s kind of a testament to BBC and Glen’s writing that we kind of got away with that. But I love it. I just love the idea of having to come back for more answers to the questions.”

Mr. Morgan said the ambiguity in the TV series is true to the novel it’s based on.

“That’s very much how the novel reads,” he said. “You go through three-quarters of it kind of knowing, kind of having a sense of what might happen. And we follow that very closely.

“But that being said,” he continued, “because we had that book, we always knew we could answer the questions that we brought up. We have those answers, and I feel confident that we've answered them throughout the eight episodes.”

As for how the season ends, Mr. Morgan said he learned a lesson from “Those Who Kill,” whose cliffhanger finale was locked in January, two months before the show premiered.

“I see on Twitter, people saying, ‘How could you end it that way?’” he said. “Having had that experience, just in case, it should end this way. I don’t want to do that to the audience.”

‘Doctor Who’ returns

The latest Doctor, now played by British actor Peter Capaldi, arrives on the season premiere of BBC America’s “Doctor Who” at 9 p.m. Saturday preceding the premiere of “Intruders.”

Post-Gazette online features editor Sharon Eberson reviews the season premiere in the POPi blog at http://blogs.post-gazette.com/arts-entertainment/popi.

‘True Blood’ finale

As one supernatural series enters with the debut of “Intruders,” another one exits with the series finale of “True Blood” at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Titled “Thank you,” the episode was written by showrunner Brian Buckner and features this plot per HBO’s logline: “Sookie (Anna Paquin) weighs a future with and without Bill (Stephen Moyer). Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) struggle with their uncomfortable partnership with Mr. Gus (Will Yun Lee). Sam (Sam Trammell) makes a choice, while Andy (Chris Bauer) comes upon an unexpected inheritance.”

Pittsburgh Nielsen data

Last week Nielsen released a local market report that shows — no surprise here — among the Top 25 TV markets nationally, Pittsburgh viewers ages 25-54 remain the most old-school, watching the most live TV daily (five hours and 19 minutes on average), a tie with Detroit. San Francisco viewers watch the least live TV (3:27).

Pittsburgh adult viewers (ages 18+) prefer to watch TV live in prime time (70 percent). So it’s not surprising that this market has one of the lower rates of time-shifted viewing, just 19 percent, the least amount of time-shifting among the Top 25 markets. (Dallas was No. 1 in time shifting with 47 percent of viewing done on a time-shifted basis.)

Nationally 72 percent of consumers in the Top 25 markets own a smartphone; in Pittsburgh it’s 61 percent. Pittsburgh is closer to the national average when considering tablets: Nationally, 41 percent of consumers in the Top 25 markets own a tablet; in Pittsburgh it’s 37 percent.

Pittsburgh is behind in the adoption of smart TVs: These device are in just 8 percent of homes locally, ranking Pittsburgh No. 25 nationally. San Francisco is No. 1 with smart TVs in 17 percent of homes.


Starz renewed “Outlander” for a second season of at least 13 episodes based on “Dragonfly in Amber,” the second of eight books in author Diana Gabaldon’s fantasy series.

“The Strain” will continue to infect: FX ordered a 13-episode second season of the thriller.

MTV renewed “Finding Carter,” executive produced by Mt. Lebanon native Terri Minsky, for a 12-episode second season.

Showtime renewed “Masters of Sex” and “Ray Donovan” for third seasons.

AMC renewed its buzz-free “Halt and Catch Fire” for a second season.

ABC Family renewed “Switched at Birth” for a fourth season.

Sundance TV renewed “Rectify” for a third season to air in 2015.

Hulu renewed “The Awesomes” for a third season to stream in 2015.

Channel surfing

NBC canceled summer sitcom “Working the Engels,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. … FX’s “American Horror Story,” this time subtitled “Freak Show,” debuts at 10 p.m. Oct. 8. ... TLC’s “Little People Big World” returns for a five-episode season at 10 p.m. Sept. 2. … Disney XD’s animated “Star Wars Rebels” will debut at 9 p.m. Oct. 3 before moving to its regular Monday time period at 9 p.m. Oct. 13. … Davis Rogan, the inspiration for the Steve Zahn character on HBO’s “Treme,” will perform a 21-and-over show at the Pittsburgh Winery, 2815 Penn Ave. in the Strip, at 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door. … Congrats to WPXI director of programming Mark Barash, who celebrated 20 years at Channel 11 this week. 

Tuned In online

Today’s TV Q&A column responds to questions about “Anger Management,” “The Newsroom” and “The View.” This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on “Wizard Wars,” “Lost” and “BoJack Horseman.” Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week’s podcast includes conversation about the Emmys and long-running TV series coming to an end. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.

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