At this point, we all know how a mystery box show works. There's a big ensemble cast, they have interconnected stories, there's a central puzzle the characters have to solve, smaller puzzles are doled out as the show progresses, and, hopefully, if it gets enough seasons, we, the viewers, get some kind of final explanation about What's Actually Going On. Usually, these shows have some kind of fixed location — Apple TV's Silo has the titular silo, HBO's Westworld had its robot theme parks (for a while at least), and Showtime's Yellowjackets has its cabin in the woods.
In other words, at this point in the late-stage streaming era, every show has sort of turned into Lost, the seminal ABC drama that spent six seasons following castaways stuck on a mysterious island. Heck, even the CW figured out how to turn Archie comics into a Lost-like mystery, with its notoriously unhinged Riverdale.
It’s no accident that there's so many of these shows on streaming platforms right now. The streaming era’s collective brain trust has clearly figured that the best way to keep viewers paying an increasingly hefty monthly subscription price is to dangle tantalizing plot threads just out of reach, and hope viewers (pay to) stick around in order to find out what happens.
Yet in the midst of all the noise, there's one mystery box drama that might be flying under your radar, tucked away on the somewhat obscure MGM+ streaming service—one that has actually managed to feel like a competent Lost successor while also figuring out some really fun ways to push the format.
It's called From, and it stars one of Lost's main players, Harold Perrineau. And Jack Bender—who was at the helm of several episodes of Lost, including “Through the Looking Glass,” arguably the show’s best—directed 10 episodes of it. The second season is airing now, with new episodes every Sunday until the finale on June 25.
Here's the premise: You drive off a highway and enter a small deserted town you can't leave. If you do try to drive back to the highway, you just re-enter the town again, Pac Man-style. At night, creepy ghouls dressed like Norman Rockwell paintings—milkmen, sheriffs, secretaries, etc.—will come out of the woods and violently dismember you if they find you outside.
The clever twist on the Lost formula is in the framing. Unlike your typical mystery box show, which will chronicle the main cast's arrival to their surreal limbo and then follow them as they unlock its secrets, From skips all that. When we first meet the main cast, they've been stuck in the town for years already, and they've pretty much given up on trying to figure out what's going on. They've created systems for onboarding new arrivals, they have a functioning government of sorts, and have even found a few mysterious tools for protecting themselves from the weird demons that live in the woods.
At the heart of the show is the aforementioned Perrineau, playing an Iraq War veteran who has become the town's beleaguered sheriff. That Perrineau spends most of the show both exhausted to the point of total incuriosity and actively trying not to take the bait every time a new weird detail about the town is discovered feels more than a little meta. This man is sick of being stuck in these kinds of places.
Other standouts among the huge and impressively diverse cast include Elizabeth Saunders, playing the surly rival leader in the town; Scott McCord, a man who has been trapped in the town since he was just a little boy (and has, as you can imagine, lost his mind because of it); Pegah Ghafoori, playing a woman named Fatima who treats the town as a sort of permanent summer camp; David Alpay, as a scummy startup bro who accidentally drives into the town after a night spent celebrating the sale of his tech company; and Ricky He, who acts as Perrineau's deputy and who arrived into the town with his aging parents, one of whom has dementia.
Which brings us to the other big hook for From: it's far more interested in having fun with its premise than it is in any kind of larger mythology. Even if that “fun” includes deeply upsetting and disturbing ideas, such as: How do you set up a system for someone who has dementia in a place like this? And what if someone shows up, becomes convinced it's all a dream, and tries to kill everyone to wake them up? (This show is not for the lighthearted.)
But this doesn’t mean that the show isn't constantly bombarding you with even more mysteries. As we approach the end of its second season this month, even fans on Reddit have begun to accept what’s starting to feel inevitable: that all the breadcrumbs won’t actually lead anywhere. Which is sort of freeing.
The show has also managed to do a good job hiding the hints to its many mysteries behind character beats. Am I desperate to know why these people can't leave this town and what those creatures in the woods are? Sure, but the focus on the characters and how their dynamics change and grow end up being a lot more satisfying than whatever new Macguffin gets unlocked to propel the story forward. Most exciting of all is when the characters learn to collaborate amid all the, you know, constant horrors.
And that's really the special thing about this show. From, which started filming its first season in 2021, seems heavily influenced by the pandemic. There are no flashbacks to life before its characters arrived in town and few characters who attempt to leave. The most riveting part of the first season was a multi-episode story arc about the townspeople trying to build a radio tower to try to see if they could talk to people on the outside.
For all the similarities between your typical stuck-in-limbo show and most people's experiences of the pandemic, not many have really reflected what was maybe the biggest lesson from COVID-19: Life goes on, even if you're stuck in a horrifying netherworld that you can't escape, with mortal threats waiting for you if you try.