Freeform's Sci-Fi Drama Beyond Isn't Likely to Be the New Pretty Little Liars

With the end of Pretty Little Liars (finally) on the horizon, Freeform is searching for a replacement series it hopes will be able to recapture the surprisingly long-lasting magic of the tragedies of Rosewood. This year the network, which ditched the ABC Family moniker in January in an attempt to move away from the longtime family-oriented label, launched Guilt, an Amanda Knox-like murder mystery series set in the United Kingdom. It was canceled after one season. The '80s-set series Dead of Summer reached a similar fate.

Freeform is now hoping its new slate of upcoming programming, which includes the Bella Thorne drama Famous in Love and a Marvel series (corporate synergy!), will garner the same level of attention from a young, media-obsessed audience. Unfortunately, the network's latest attempt, the sci-fi drama Beyond (Monday, Jan. 2 at 9/8c), which will be available to stream all at once à la the Netflix model, isn't likely to be the vehicle that takes Freeform to the next stage in its evolution.

Get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Beyond

Created by Adam Nussdorf (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland) and produced by Tim Kring(Heroes) and David Eick (Battlestar Galactica), Beyond follows the science-obsessed Holden Matthews (Burkely Duffield), a 25-year-old who wakes up from a 12-year coma to discover he has new abilities outside the realm of scientific explanation. These powers, which early on appear to include (but are probably not limited to) being able to punch the ground really hard to knock people over, melting plastic bobbleheads with his mind while he's sleeping, and even setting a house on fire while unconscious at a party, put Holden on a dangerous path, one that includes a mysterious and dangerous man sporting a yellow jacket (no, really, there's an entire episode called "The Man in the Yellow Jacket") and leads to a much larger conspiracy. Predictably, all of this soon puts his friends and loved ones in harm's way because no one ever gets to just enjoy their superpowers without complications.

In its early episodes, Beyond devotes a frustrating amount of time to the unfolding mystery of Holden's new powers and how they cause problems for his reassimilation to waking life after his miraculous reentrance into the real world. They focus on Holden's attempt to understand and cope with two realities, a magical one known as the Realm that exists in his mind and bleeds in to his physical existence in present day, and the one he left behind when he entered his coma but which never stopped moving and evolving even while he lie motionless.

So while he is attempting to uncover what his new powers mean with the help of a mysterious young woman (Dilan Gwyn) with a constantly slipping accent and ties to the Realm, Holden is also attempting to come to terms with a new world order, one in which his childhood best friend (Jordan Calloway) is married with a child on the way, his younger brother (Jonathan Whitesell) is in many ways his older, more experienced brother, and his mother (Romy Rosemont), now separated from his father (Michael McGrady), has become almost alarmingly devout. However, the biggest challenge for Holden may not be superhuman at all. It may actually be the fact that in many ways he's a 13-year-old boy stuck in a 25-year-old man's body, like a warped version of Freaky Friday.

Because he has been unconscious for nearly half of his life, Holden lacks the experiences and knowledge that someone his age should have. It's true that his unusual circumstances, the result of a strange occurrence in the woods after being chased by a bully, meant he was able to skip the awkward years of puberty and the potential war zone that is the high school cafeteria, but that also means he never went to college, attended a house party or even legally ordered a beer, which for many is a recognized rite of passage into adulthood. When Holden kisses a girl at 25, it's as awkward as if it's the first time, probably because it is the first time.

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Freeform hopes that by releasing all 10 episodes of the show's first season at once -- it will be available to stream on the Freeform app, Freeform.com, On Demand and Hulu simultaneous with the show's television debut -- that fans will become enthralled by Holden's extraordinary story and binge it in entirety. But by the fourth episode, the story and Holden's character still have not progressed all that far, which makes watching Beyond feel more like a burden one must endure rather than an exciting adventure on which to embark. In light of this, it feels more likely that this rollout plan may actually be a sneaky way to convince viewers to watch more than the televised two-hour premiere event, because if people have to wait a week between each new hour, there's a very high probability they'll grow weary or forget the show even exists.

With more scripted programming than ever before -- according to a recent report released by FX Media Research, there were 455 scripted series that aired in 2016 -- Beyond simply fails to make a memorable impression. It is a poorly paced, poorly acted and poorly written attempt to capitalize on a genre that has matured beyond the point where the show enters the TV landscape.

Science-fiction and fantasy programs are more popular than ever before, with high profile shows like HBO's Game of Thrones and Westworld dominating discussions of popular culture long after a new episode has aired. On The CW, the age of vampires and werewolves has given way to a world in which superheroes reign supreme save for a couple of critically acclaimed hourlong comedies and a well-plotted series about the zombie apocalypse that highlights just how rote The Walking Dead has become. ABC, NBC and Fox all have at least one program that fits snuggly into the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, with more debuting later in the season. Hell, even FX, a network known for prestige dramas, is getting into the game with its upcoming Marvel drama Legion, a series about a man with telekinetic powers that makes Beyond look like the child's play that it definitely is. In other words: Beyond needed to stand out if it wanted to be successful, and it doesn't even stand out on its own network.

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Freeform is currently home to both Stitchers and Shadowhunters, a science-fiction drama and a complicated supernatural saga based on a series of young adult novels, respectively. Neither are particularly good, with the latter being completely unwatchable at times, and in that regard, Beyond fits smoothly into the network's lineup as its second or third-best genre program, depending on the week. But when compared to the level of quality -- whether we're talking production value, acting, or narrative -- that's seen elsewhere, it's clear the show and its frequent use of greenscreen, which will probably conjure up nightmares similar to those endured after watching ABC's One Upon a Time in Wonderland, won't be taking Freeform to new heights anytime soon.

The seven-season run of Pretty Little Liars wasn't exactly what one would call great television, and the series certainly overstayed its welcome, but at least some of its questionable storylines were elevated into watchable moments of less questionable emotional drama. The same cannot be said for Beyond, which despite its extraordinary subject matter, remains firmly planted on the ground.

Beyond premieres Monday, Jan. 2 at 9/8c on Freeform.

This article originally appears on TV Guide.com.

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Jan 19, 2018
The person who wrote this article is clearly clueless. If it wasnt good, then how come it was renewed? And season 2 just aired episode 1 and 2 today.
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Jan 25, 2017
I actually like this show if they renew for a second season they could make it even better now that the back story is complete
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Jan 04, 2017
I agree with most of what .Kaitlin wrote - except about Stitchers, which is one of the best well-written shows with interesting characters on any network. But she is on the mark with Beyond. The pace is terribly slow, the characters un-interesting. Holden goes through almost all of the first two episodes with a bland, vacuous look on his face. Try as one may one just doesn't care about the characters. Add in the unexplained, not even a little bit, places/things he's experiencing and the show can be summed up in one word: boring
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Jan 04, 2017
Protagonist character Holden Mathews is the most selfish American-ham I have seen in a long time (which his antagonist Frost also says to him late in the series, and I couldn't agree more). And actor Burkely Duffield is one of the worst choices for a lead I have ever seen in a series - beefy, squared-chinned and hopelessly talentless. Not only he plays the kind of character that back in the 1970s even George Lucas made fun of with Dustin Hoffman's character in "American Graffiti", he seems to never ever get "beyond" his character...
For every minute of this series I hoped that the "bad guys" win, if only to kill the bore of the political correctness of the plot-lines. I have learned to loathe the protagonist character so much that the many potentially interesting aspects of "Beyond" (including the theme itself) fade to zero. The political correctness of the writing is absolutely and unbearably frustrating from episode one. In fact "BEYOND" is probably attractive for Bible belters who think that watching this series is already excitingly sinful. My god ;-) is this stuff boring...
Good performances from the older cast. With exception of Eden Brolin who plays "Charlie" before she totally disappears from the storyline, the younger actors most of the time can't be listened to. The CGI is more than underwhelming and looks like done in the last minute and by a bunch of guys found on YouTube. For me, this was a disappointment BEYOND belief...
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Jan 03, 2017

Having now watched both Beyond and Stranger Things, I have to say that I might just prefer Beyond. Whereas Stranger Things boasted a never-ending and sometimes tiring homage to 80's pop culture and the classic government conspiracy combining it with the mysterious Upside Down, Eleven and the onset of puberty for the main stars, Beyond just went another way. And I preferred it.

The mysterious Realm wasn't so misunderstood and it seemed more like Jim Butcher's Nevernever in his books than anything else, equal parts dangerous and beautiful. The main characters were grown ups (with Holden being the possible exception given his mental age) with more relatable and realistic problems, and villains who were nothing more than religious wacko's using science to find their version of heaven a la the Rapture (which given the Realm's nature, wasn't so crazy).

All in all, compared to other mystery shows, I liked how much was revealed in the 10 episodes regarding the Realm and it's inherent dangers etc. I hope there is a season 2 and that it explores more of the time Willa and Holden spent together in the Realm other than Holdens training and them sharing lovey-dovey eyes at each other. from other comments already up, I also agree with the negative comments regarding the likeness to other shows, the characters / relationships /accents and the CGI-usage in the Realm, but it's a show targeted at an audience where they're constantly on a budget and wrestling with storylines so you have to forgive them the slip-ups.

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Jan 04, 2017
So wait, would you say that Beyond and Stranger Things are kind of on the same page as in show wise? I know you said that they went separate ways and I want to watch Beyond, but since I can't stand way out there things or anything too creepy or scary, I am a bit nervous about watching it as well. It looks really good, so I want to try it, but still nervous. :)
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Jan 04, 2017
Stranger Things is definitely the scarier of the two in my opinion. With Beyond, the basic premise is that whilst his body was in coma, the main character Holden's mind went somewhere else for 12 years and on his awakening, body and mind struggle to reintegrate. The scary / creepy moments in the show are mostly through Holden's visions and hallucinations, you pity the struggle he's going through more than you're scared of what you've seen. When I also compare the two shows, it is a weak comparison only in that they both deal with a bit of science and a place "Somewhere out there", which I think Beyond played off better. The bad guys in Beyond are also not just shady government agents either. Hope this helps :)
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Jan 05, 2017
Yes it does, thank-you! I think my Mom may like this too. She likes this type of stuff. Maybe I'll see if she'll watch it with me. That way if it is a little scary, I'm not by myself. :)
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Jan 03, 2017
I'm really enjoying the series so far I'm 7 episodes in and it's great.
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Jan 03, 2017
Considering I don't like PLL, that's good. I'll watch it soon, I have more things to catch up on first.
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Jan 03, 2017
Verdict = watchable. I'd give season 2 a go.
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Jan 02, 2017
Just finished. It was kind of like they took elements of a bunch of different successful shows, threw them against a wall, and smeared them around like a 5yo with fingerpaints. For instance, the brothers - sometimes it felt like someone was trying to write for Stiles and Scott on Teen Wolf, but didn't quite understand the equation that makes those two one of the best bromances. The show never quite evolves the relationships between all of these characters. They just sort of happen and you're expected to go along with it. Also, it was like the show just forgot about Charlie and then was like, oh yeah, that bitch is still alive. Let's give her a scene at the end. Last time Holden saw her he was shot and she was getting shot at, and he never once even asked Jeff what happened to her. Then he gets a throw away line from a known murderer who says he would never hurt her, and Holden's like, "Sure, ok. I'm tapping your daughter again now anyway, so who gives a shit about that weirdo." Oh, and the CGI in the realm. Ugh. Terrible. Every time they flashed back to that world I just hit fast forward.
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Jan 03, 2017
Half way thru and kinda feels like a weak freeform strain of Stranger Things ! The dynamics amongst the characters seems aloof and coerced. The plot also feels hurried and mashed. And where's MAX-their precious puppy?!!! Just look at its priceless happy face! Max had me at the beginning so it's truly BEYOND comprehension to think that they can do a good show without him. Grrrrr....! Zzzz..LoL !
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Jan 02, 2017
Impressive! I'm just over half way thru. I get what you mean about evolving the relationships between the characters. Holden suddenly remembering his back story with Willa, after his visit to the realm, wasn't convincing. Also, his dad and the dead guy's brother in the bar was a bit contrived.

The brothers relationship seems fine to me though. It's had to pick up after a 12yr hiatus and they are in essence strangers with a familial bond.......the sacred covenant of brotherhood. So there's moments of warmth and awkwardness between them. It's still watchable though.
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Jan 01, 2017
abc/freeform really has a lackluster-crappy block of programming. except for baby daddy, young & hungry and the fosters its just pure garbage.
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Dec 30, 2016
Let's look on the bright side....at least she got paid to watch it!

One good thing it has going for it, is that there's nothing else to watch right now. On this basis, it should be a streaming success!
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Dec 30, 2016
Freeform! *snigger* They're still going with that name?!

I'm guessing that the actress having "a constantly slipping accent" was not intened.

Or or even illegally ordering a beer as a rite of passage.

This sounds like a show destined to just slip through the cracks and is forgotten about which is a shame as it sounds like it could have had potential. It's a shame that the cast picture makes it look like they're all suffering from 'bowel issues'... and nice to read a long article obviously someone's Christmas hangover's gone!
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Dec 30, 2016
Hangover? Maybe I just bought more whiskey. Who knows?
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Dec 30, 2016
Erm whoever does your recycling?! Don't worry 2016 will soon be over and you won't require copious amounts of whiskey anymore as nothing bad's going to happen in January!
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Dec 31, 2016
Soooo.........that's what it takes to be TVGuide staff.....copious amounts of whisky! No surprise there then!
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Dec 30, 2016
I hope it's better than that crap-tastic show Guilt and that below average show Dead of Summer

Freeform/ABC Family has only had one show that could have topped PLL and that was Twisted, which was ridiculously cancelled after one season (and a big cliffhanger)

summer 2017 will most likely be the end of me watching any show on Freeform - the rest have been absolutely terrible
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