THE SERIES "Wayward Pines"

WHEN|WHERE Ten-episode series premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) goes to a small town in Idaho -- Wayward Pines -- to find a couple of agents who have disappeared. But he's in a bad car accident and ends up in Pines' very strange hospital. Nothing else is as it superficially seems in Wayward Pines -- including the constantly chirping crickets. The town sheriff (Terrence Howard), the hospital nurse (Melissa Leo), even Beverly (Juliette Lewis), a helpful bar attendant, are mysterious -- or treacherous. Created by Chad Hodge and produced by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense").

MY SAY Wayward Pines -- both the town and namesake show -- present riddles. Most immediately, how does a pine tree develop a personality to the point of being wayward? (Teenage pines, maybe?) Of course, TV town names can have a way of confounding logic. Bon Temps was anything but good times, and Sunnydale -- perched literally over the mouth of hell -- was rarely sunny. This title is therefore your first hint that you're not in Kansas anymore, and will have to spend all 10 episodes figuring out what state, or state of mind, this is exactly.

That's the fun, the promise and the potential calamity of "Pines." Hodge and Shyamalan have stuffed this with so many beloved creepy-small-town tropes -- and believe it or not, only a few actually invoke "Twin Peaks" -- that homage threatens to veer into overkill.

Shyamalan fans know he's great at setting tables, with Thursday's moody opener a perfect example. But they also know that problems sometimes arise when -- for his next trick! -- he tries to pull the tablecloth out from under the dishes. (Did "The Village" really end that way? And don't get me started on "The Last Airbender."..) 

So, some viewing advice: Sit back, enjoy the crickets and wonder where the frogs are. Also, don't fight the impulse to let the mind wander -- you won't miss all that much.

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And finally, enjoy the atmospherics. They're good. Just don't expect them to lead to a satisfying payoff. It might never come.

GRADE B-