If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, it’s time to send the men in white coats over to ABC headquarters. The Gates is the network’s latest attempt at replicating Twin Peaks, a peculiar strategy considering that ABC showed the David Lynch series very little love after its initial burst of ratings glory in 1990. Institutional memory is often short, however, which may explain why this supernatural drama has found a spot on the schedule so soon after the failure of that other recent Twin Peaks clone, Happy Town.
It’s hard not to be reminded of Lynch when The Gates opens with idyllic images of suburbia, all fresh-mown lawns and ruby-red roses straight out of Blue Velvet. We’ve found ourselves in another tight-knit community churning with dark secrets, but this time, as the title hints, it’s a modern gated community with all the amenities, including luxury housing, upscale shops, and even its own police station. Enter new police chief Nick Monohan (Frank Grillo), a former Chicago homicide detective who was pressured to leave the force after killing an unarmed suspect. Along with his wife, Sarah (Marisol Nichols), and children, Charlie (Travis Caldwell) and Dana (McKaley Miller), Nick takes up residence behind the 16-foot-tall iron gates in a McMansion complete with pool and Jacuzzi. It seems too good to be true.
Of course it is, as Nick learns when he takes on his first case: an investigation into the disappearance of a contractor who entered the Gates but, according to the more than 200 security cameras, never left. We know something Nick doesn’t, which is that the contractor ended up as dinner for Claire Radcliffe (Rhona Mitra), a desperate housewife with a taste for human blood. She’s not the only supernaturally endowed resident of the Gates, as we learn when Charlie strikes up a friendship with top student Andie Bates (Skyler Samuels), whose suspicious boyfriend has some lupine tendencies of his own.
Yes, The Gates is crawling with werewolves, as well as vampires and witches. And yet for all this paranormal activity, the pilot episode couldn’t be more square and conventional. If not for the occasional fur sprouting, the high school scenes revolving around the rote “new kid/hot chick/pissed-off jock” triangle would be indistinguishable from any number of generic CW teen dramas. The entire blandly attractive cast appears to have been selected from the pages of a J. Crew catalogue, but it’s not as if they’ve been given characters with more than an inch of depth to portray anyway. Nick is, like Twin Peaks‘s Special Agent Dale Cooper, a lawman with a shady past and a stranger in a strange land, but not even a fraction of the imagination and attention to detail that made Coop such a fascinating and original character has been brought to bear here. The same can be said for the Gates itself as a setting; it’s just Wisteria Lane with fangs.
It’s kind of a shame, because there’s probably a compelling series to be made about these kinds of exclusive planned communities and their often contentious relationships with adjoining cities, but we may have to wait for a David Simon to tackle that one. As it is, The Gates doesn’t even pass muster as a spooky-fun summer series; it’s just another failed attempt by ABC to recreate something it couldn’t wait to kill the first time around.