Whatever you might think of Freeform‘s eclectic mix of offerings, it is a network that is at least fairly brave. Whether the premise of a show looks at groups/characters that don’t get a lot of airtime, or they launch a series that’s just plain bonkers, hit or miss, the network isn’t just churning out the same old show.
Possibly an effort to cater to a demographic over a cohesive, overall “feel,” Freeform usually gives viewers something worth talking about, even if they don’t ultimately appreciate the conversation.
Siren is a show that’s as crazy as you want to be and makes no apologies for the fact. A show about mermaids is odd enough, though not without a positive trend of late, but one that spins things in a dark, and surprisingly serious way is another level altogether. Even catching a short clip of Eline Powell as the not-so-friendly fish out of water is enough to convince anyone that this is too weird to avoid.
The premise is straight-forward enough, and is likely exactly what you might guess. A mermaid shows up, and there’s a guy, Ben (Alex Roe), who has to figure out what to do with her. The deviation from hundreds of years of mermaid stories here is that we’re in Bristol Cove, a town that was, apparently, built around the tradition of a man who long ago fell in love with a mermaid. In an opening that is bizarrely reminiscent of the establishing scenes in the recent Sigmund & the Sea Monsters update, we learn that Bristol Cove does a brisk tourist trade by embracing a certain “mermaid town” identity, and Ben is the descendant of the historic mermaid-lover.
The story actually starts when some fishermen snag something odd in their net and the government swoops down to snatch it from them. This leads us to Ryn (Powell) daring the land, and finding herself rescued, sort of, by Ben. Beyond that, hilarity, more or less, ensues.
It’s a show that actually has a surprising number of strengths, not least simply the fact that it’s rather fun. The stars are pretty charismatic, though Powell is not in the upper tier of actors who can play “confused animal.”
The problem is that Siren seems to want to be four or five different shows at once, and bounces around scene-to-scene taking on the “feel,” dialog construction, and depth (or lack thereof) of all of them. At times viewers will find themselves comfortably in the middle of a show that fits easily in the mold of several other recent series featuring the supernatural, only to find they are somehow in a teen angst drama (with characters too old for the idea). When not focusing on the main characters the show seems to throw a dart at a wall to determine its own genre, and it won’t stick with one for long. Sitting in a bar trying to sell the mermaid story, or slogging through uncomfortable family drama, might as well be scenes right out of Riverdale, but a mysterious, older resident of the town runs a store that mainly offers “Lifetime movie.”
Tossing aside genre norms can be a great move, and questioning the possibilities available when moving through a story often leads to the best shows, but constantly shifting what you’re after leads to a feeling that perhaps you aren’t after anything. There is some hope that this show will settle in if it can last more than a half dozen episodes, in much the way Once Upon a Time moved on from initially being everything and nothing, but it’s hard to say that there’s evidence that it’s moving to more solid ground.
Still, Siren has its own curious song going for it that may keep viewers around long enough for the show to decide it can be bothered to figure out what it’s doing, and I’ll be damned if I don’t want to know where it ends up.