I was introduced to Freeform’s upcoming show Siren during NYCC in the Fall of 2017. It so thoroughly impressed me that I still consider attending the panel where they showed the pilot a highlight of my time there. During the panel, executive producer Eric Wald remarked that it wasn’t the finished product. We now know that Freeform plans to air the first two episodes of Siren as a 2-hour premiere event, but that’s not the only difference between the NYCC version and the one that will air on March 29th at 8:00 pm. The finished product not only has completed CGI, but it also has a totally new story thread with multiple characters attached. The story and performances delivered by Ron Yuan and Sibongile Mlambo are particular highlights.
Siren is set in the coastal town of Bristol Cove, known for its legend of once being home to mermaids. It gets turned upside down when a mysterious girl called Ryn (Eline Powell) appears and begins wreaking havoc upon the quaint village. Using their resources, marine biologists Ben (Alex Roe) and Maddie (Fola Evans-Akingbola) must work together to find out who and what drove this mermaid out of her home, and if there are more like her out there.
Siren is based on a story by Eric Wald and Dean White who both serve as executive producers. Emily Whitesell (Finding Carter) is on board as showrunner and executive producer. Brad Luff, Nate Hopper, and RD Robb are also attached as executive producers.
Overall, I enjoyed all three episodes of this sci-fi-fantasy hybrid show. It’s clever how it takes the mythology of mermaids and re-contextualizes them as an amphibious apex predator species. But there are hints that the fanciful lore of mermaids as told by multiple cultures will have some relevance too. One of the more earthy, folklore-adhering characters admonishes the purely science-driven characters about looking at Ryn as merely a new species, imploring them to go beyond the logical and concrete to understand the real danger that humans pose to her kind and that her kind poses to humans.
The best part of Siren is definitely Eline Powell’s performance as Ryn, with the sharp, jerky movement of her body, the relentless curiosity of her abyssal eyes, and the threatening yet oddly cute hissing she emits when she’s displeased or frustrated.
Eline, Fola, and, Alex have excellent chemistry and this helps carry the narrative in a big way since they play a lot of their scenes opposite one another. Watching Ryn, Maddie, and Ben interact is fascinating because Ryn is basically a strong, highly intelligent, human-looking wild animal. And the dimensions of their relationship evolve quite a bit in this short time as they unravel an interlocking mystery that involves all of them plus several other Bristol Cove denizens. The show doesn’t waste time sending its sizable ensemble cast off on different threads of the same general story, and that works really well for the most part.
I also really enjoyed New Zealand actress, Rena Owen as Helen, the knowledgeable and portentous shopkeeper. I’d seen her in a film called Once Were Warriors many years ago and her performance has stayed with me since. I’m happy to have her on my screen on a weekly basis. The ensemble that has been gathered for Siren is a multi-ethnic, multi-national conglomeration and it’s beautiful.
But with all things, you have to take the good with the not-as-good and there is certainly some of that in Siren. Characters have a tendency to do The Thing That Will Advance The Plot™ even if it seems like something no one in that situation would reasonably do. There is an event that happens toward the end of the third episode where time itself softens and warps to get key characters in a specific location at the same time, and I’m still not quite sure why. But that’s forgivable because this sequence also contains one of my favorite scenes between Ryn and Maddie.
What is a bit less forgivable is how thinly drawn some of the other character dynamics are. Ian Verdun’s Xander and Curtis Lum’s Calvin are set up as the B-Story to Ben, Maddie, and Ryn’s A-Story. They play fishermen who witnessed the unexplainable and find themselves caught up in immediate intrigue.
Ben used to go out fishing with them but decided to go to school for marine biology and work at the local animal refuge instead. Calvin finds this inexplicably unforgivable as he takes every opportunity to badmouth Ben to Xander while Xander gamely defends Ben each time. Ian and Curtis do a decent job of depicting a realistic bro-ish friendship, but unfortunately, that can’t really compare to the crazypants weirdness going on in the A-story, so I find my attention wandering a bit during their scenes. More troubling is the interactions between Ben, Calvin, and Xander when they’re together, and that’s a shame because Ian Verdun is incredibly charismatic. He and Alex Roe have a nice camaraderie as evidence by their riffing during NYCC interviews.
The way Ben, Xander, and Calvin are written when together makes it seem like they’re on personality sliders where Xander is set to being Ben’s homie despite whatever seemingly shady secrets he’s keeping. Calvin is set to being apoplectic pretty much anytime Ben is around or even if his name is spoken, and Ben is weirdly avoidant of confrontation when a quick, “Hey can we talk,” or “What’s your deal,” could do wonders in this situation. There are a couple of nice scenes between just Xander and Calvin that give me hope the dynamics between these two and Ben will get a bit smoother and more believable as the season progresses and the dire situation they all find themselves in unfolds even more. But even if this aspect of the show doesn’t improve, there are still plenty of good elements to keep me submerged in Siren.
Siren premieres on March 29th at 8 pm on Freeform.