[Note: This review is for the first half of Wayne, Season 1, all that was made available to us prior to the series debut.]
Tell me if you’ve seen this movie before: a loner hero type with a moral compass that’s written in stone does what they think is right, at all costs. Or maybe, their moral compass is a bit off, their code outside the rules that society has set, but they’re righting wrongs that others won’t. Meet Wayne, 16-year-old high school “student.” Wayne’s compass is broken. But boy does veering off course with wild abandon lead to one hell of a ride in YouTube Premium’s Wayne.
Here’s the strongest indicator I can give when telling you just how good Wayne is: I don’t binge-watch. Life has had many plans for me of late, and none of them allow me the time or energy to watch copious amounts of TV — ever. But I binged with the best of them when I turned on Wayne.
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Let’s get this out of the way, Wayne has nothing to do with Batman or the DC shitshow of an extended universe. Also, apparently, there’s been misguided confusion guessing an association with Wade Wilson and Deadpool. Wayne’s only connection on that front is that Deadpool and Deadpool 2 writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are amongst its producers. Otherwise, Wayne, offered as a YouTube “original,” is actually just that, an original creation from Shawn Simmons. While Simmons is no stranger in Hollywood, with a writing career stretching back over a decade, this is his first pickup as a creator, and it shows. This isn’t a mark against the quality of the filmmaking which is, predominantly, first-rate. Instead, being Simmons’ first, its emotional bearing and compass (in no way broken) offer a largely intact vision for its central characters and story.
Wayne opens with the titular Wayne (Mark McKenna) allowing himself to be beaten bloody, all so he can break a pair of windows, look angry, and say nothing. Without spoiling details, the show finds a unique way to convey the depths of Wayne’s convictions and the lengths he’ll go to validate his code—which are, to say the least, extreme. The extent of these extremities become even more apparent when a potential love-interest (Del, played by Ciara Bravo) enters the scene and some fuel is thrown on the old adolescent emotional fires.
Wayne, when not righting wrongs, lives with his cancer-stricken father. On his deathbed, his father reveals that he had a car that he’d intended to leave to Wayne, but Wayne’s mother absconded with a dude, and they took the car in the bargain. Wayne feels compelled to get the car back, and asks Del to come with him. Events are in motion and chaos ensues.
But in that chaos, you find many gems. Wayne and Del’s hero’s-journey brings them in contact with an ever-expanding universe of characters, each a microcosm of humanity in of itself, and each rendered with loving juxtaposition that brings them vividly to life. From an overzealous groundskeeper at a country club to a seen-better-days prostitute working a destitute motel, each character, unhindered by screen time duration, brings forth details to make them uniquely human and as such, unique characters. It’s rare to find an ensemble cast that all make an impact on the narrative whole, and frankly, it’s a large part of what makes Wayne work.
Yes, Wayne and Del are incredibly unique characters brought to life with a masterful flourish by McKenna and Bravo, but set them loose on an unsuspecting cast of simpleton archetypes, and their plight would fall short. On the other hand, unleash these two hellions on actual human beings, each with nuances and motivations to be had, and the action unfolds that much more brilliantly, taking unexpected turn after unexpected turn towards a conclusion I can only hope will be as brilliant and out of the blue.
When I say McKenna and Bravo are wonderful, it’s no exaggeration. While both made appearances in films I enjoyed this year (Overlord and The Long Dumb Road, respectively) neither had the opportunity to lead or really take their acting chops and sink them into the script with gusto. Here, they’re given the meat and set loose to devour it whole. Some might find their south-Boston accents annoying (at best) or unbelievable (at worst), but they’re continuing the grand tradition of shedding light on Boston’s finest begun by Damon and Affleck back in 1997 in Good Will Hunting.
Elements of the series are eerily similar to 2018’s The End of the Fucking World, but according to Simmons, it’s coincidence only, and I can safely say that this is the better version of whatever universe they overlap in, by far. Wayne takes what all great outcast and vigilante shows offer, that heart-of-gold-intent and delivers that commonality with such conviction, and (aside from one or two glaring missteps) innocence, that you’re won over to the cause of the protagonists and you want them to succeed. Yet, simultaneously, you’re not really rooting against the antagonists, you’re getting their side of the story, too. It’s a much more compelling story when all the characters offer you something to connect with, and it’s what sets Wayne apart in this sea of supposed bingeability.
Those missteps I mention? Well, there’s a line between crazy and psychotic, and it’s a tenuous line when dealing with redeemable vigilantes. Wayne crosses the line once or twice when the violence goes too big to fit the crime,like when Wayne bites the tip of Del’s father’s nose off basically because her dad told Wayne to stay away. Sometimes you wonder why the over the top violence is included--here it seems to be for shock value, especially because it’s done in close-up slow-motion. I get that, but it risks diminishing Wayne’s validity as a hero, flawed or otherwise when his actions aren’t justified by even his own code. If the dude had been operating a child porn ring, that’s one thing, but losing his nose to a good guy for telling him (albeit violently) to keep away from his daughter, might lose viewer sympathy.
Side-note: the musical scoring is beautifully composed to emphasize emotional overtures and highlight the high notes.