Is there a Stephen King formula? Sorry, trick question. King’s obviously a very diverse author, since although he’s best known as a horror writer, he’s turned his hand to everything from The Shawshank Redemption (feelgood prison story) to 11.22.63 (time travelling attempt to live in the sixties to stop Kennedy from being assassinated). Sure, the action’s always almost set in Maine, but that’s really his one definitive defining trait.
Yet one in comes to adaptations, maybe there is a formula, since the adaptations have so often been much of a muchness. If they weren’t, there’d never have been a Darkplace.
Part of the problem is that success breeds imitators who want to latch onto what made the first thing a success and piggyback to the same popularity. CBS’s Under The Dome wasn’t exactly the greatest TV show on Earth – beyond Rachelle Lefevre’s hair – but it was CBS’s surprise summer hit of 2013 and swiftly went from being a limited edition one-off to a full-blown, multiple-season series as a result.
So with Spike once more dipping its toe into the water of scripted content, after its efforts with Blade and The Kill Point made it more or less hide its head in the sand for a decade, it’s perhaps unsurprising that for its glorious return, it’s decided to play it safe and follow both CBS and Hulu in not only adapting a Stephen King story but also following Under The Dome more or less beat for beat, to the extent that The Mist borrows more from Under The Dome in the first episode than it does from The Mist.
We start off in a teeny tiny Maine town full of people with issues that are tediously spelled out for us all up front so that we don’t have to bother trying to do anything too subtly once the action starts. Most of the ‘issues’ revolve around Alyssa Sutherland (Vikings) and her family, especially her gay step-son and her step-daughter who fancies a high school jock, but wakes up after a party suspecting that he’s raped her. Problematically, said jock’s dad is also a police officer.
But there’s also a guy in an army uniform (Romaine Waite) who wakes up on a hillside not remembering much and who comes into town to warn people that there’s something odd in the mist that’s coming towards town. He’s arrested on suspicion of being black and locked up in the jail, where we meet a murderous bad girl (19-2‘s Alexandra Ordolis).
Unfortunately, his warning comes too late, as before you know it, animals are being weird – toads are biting little old ladies and cockroaches are attacking policemen. The mist rolls in, killing anything electric, but woe betide anyone who enters it. Best everyone with the most issues stay locked up together in the shopping mall, hey?
None of this especially subtle stuff. You can see straight from the off what most of the issues are going to be, particularly if you’ve seen Under The Dome. The main difference is that Spike is basic cable, which means it can get away with more swearing and more gore. Once the mist rolls in, suddenly faces are coming off or losing parts, cockroaches are burrowing into flesh, people are being shot in the head. It reads like someone’s idea of what a Stephen King story should be like – it’s horror, isn’t it, so surely there should be nasty unpleasantness.
Even when a little old lady’s husband is shot in the head in front of her by someone driven mad by the mist, the desensitisation process has already began enough that neither the show nor the viewer seems to care. Normally I weep buckets whenever old people are left all alone by the death of their partner, but the scene evoked barely a trace of emotion in me, because The Mist doesn’t really know how to create real people you’d care about.
The Mist is good at gore, but that’s about it. It’s not even a good imitation of Under The Dome, let alone the original Stephen King story. Maybe Spike should have another think about scripted. See you again in 10 years’ time, guys?
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.
Real-world demands got the better of me last week, so I thought I’d do WHYBW nice and early this week, just in case the world explodes or something – at least you’ll have something to read as we all float off into the aether.
That means that after the jump, I’ll be discussing two weeks of the regulars: 24:Legacy, Cardinal, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Fortitude, The Great Indoors, Lethal Weapon, The Magicians, Man Seeking Woman and Powerless. I’ll also be looking at the season finales of Son of Zorn and Timeless, as well as the return of Billions. For a bit of excitement, you can guess which one of these I’ll be dropping from the viewing schedule.
But I have tried three new shows as well that didn’t warrant full reviews.
Doubt (US: CBS) Katherine Heigl is the brilliant, impulsive but quirky and flawed lawyer at a New York ’boutique’ legal firm full of brilliant, impulsive, quirky and flawed lawyers. Trouble is, she’s falling for the rich guy she’s defending but he might be guilty…
Despite an awesome cast (Heigl, Laverne Cox, Dulé Hill, Elliott Gould, Dreama Walker, Ben Lawson, Cassidy Freeman) and obviously being intended to be slightly comedic, Doubt is so bad as to be unwatchable. It’s insulting stupid, as clumsy as a drunk rhino in its writing and has dialogue designed to shatter bowels. I had a feeling that this was never going to go the distance and hey, would you look at that – it’s been cancelled after only two episodes, a record for the 2016-2017 season.
Patriot (Amazon) Spy comedy-thriller in the style of Wes Anderson, in which intelligence officer Michael Dorman must assume a perilous ‘non-official cover’ as a mid-level employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm, in order to prevent Iran from going nuclear. The trouble is, as his spy dad Terry O’Quinn points out, Dorman sings folk music to ease his stress, but he’s becoming increasingly truthful with his lyrics…
All of which is funny enough and you get it all explained to you in the first ten minutes of the first episode. After that, though, the High Concept runs out and you’re left stuck with a show about a process engineer who sings songs about killing Egyptian physicists in order to preserve US interests overseas. Some nice ideas, but not really enough to support an entire episode, let alone an entire season.
Training Day (US: CBS) Adaptation of the Denzel Washington movie in which a young rookie cop is partnered with an older, wiser cop to learn the ropes. The twist is that younger cop (Justin Cornwell) has been sent to spy on the older cop (Bill Paxton), who’s suspected of not just bending the rules but of being liable to break them quite severely.
The show sets itself up as a sort of American Braquoto question what exactly makes a good cop. Are idealism and the rule of law the best and only way to fight criminals? Or is the real-world too messy and must a cop break the rules in order to best serve his higher purpose? And even if he does, if he works well with the community and gets results, shouldn’t we look the other way?
However, whatever side of the argument you support, Training Day isn’t going to answer its questions definitively because it bears as much resemblance to reality as chocolate-flavoured beachball. People are diving out of windows clutching babies to avoid explosions, automatic gunfire can’t penetrate wooden door frames, lone police officers can get into heavily armed drug dealers’ houses with a single shotgun and without killing anyone. It’s just nonsense.
As a show, it’s so daft and pointless, I actually saw the first episode three weeks ago and completely forgot I’d seen it. Unfortunately, it is now Bill Paxton’s swansong, so I thought I should at least mention it.
In Canada: Wednesdays, 10 pm ET/PT, CTV In Canada (en Français): Thursdays, 10pm, Super Écran In the UK: Acquired by BBC Four for broadcast in 2017
Nordic Noir has been a staple of our airwaves for almost exactly a decade now – ever since Forbydelsen (The Killing) hit our screens in 2007, in fact. What exactly makes something a Nordic Noir? It seems an obvious question – a Noir-esque drama made in the Nordic regions – but if you Theseus paradox the whole situation, suddenly it’s not quite as clear.
For example, can a country outside the Nordic regions make a Nordic Noir? It seems so. After all, UK made its own version of the Wallander stories, and we’ve gone on to make Fortitude, The Tunnel (Tunnel)and Y Gwyll (Hinterland), all of which seem to be as close to Nordic Noir as you can get without everyone speaking a Scandinavian language – at least before Fortitude went a bit bonkers and sci-fi.
However, The Killing (US), Those Who Killand The Bridge (US) were almost identikit versions of the originals yet still didn’t have the feel of Nordic Noir, so clearly there’s something in the country of origin and the US doesn’t seem to have it. But how about Canada, which like the UK and the Scandinavian countries seems so lovely and calm and dull on the exterior but is possibly a seething mass of darkness underneath all the bad weather?
Enter Cardinal to help us test the paradox further.
Based on the first of Giles Blunt’s six ‘John Cardinal Mysteries’, Forty Words For Sorrow, the series stars Billy Campbell (Helix, The Killing (US), The Rocketeer) as the eponymous Cardinal, a Canadian police detective in the fictional Algonquin Bay, who investigates the disappearance of a young girl. Unable to find her, he goes off the rails and is demoted, but a year later, the body of the girl turns up and he is reassigned to what is now a murder case, working alongside new recruit Karine Vanasse (Pan Am, Revenge).
It would be tempting to think of this as a Canadian version of Forbydelsen (The Killing) and the rest of its ilk, since many of the hallmarks of the genre are all present and correct: troubled investigator; cunning serial killer; general sadness, isolation, coldness and gloominess; and a thorough mining of the emotions of death, particularly the death of a child, and its effects on a community.
But I think comparisons would be misleading since although it is still a Nordic Noir, this is very much a show creating its own sub-genre: Canadian Noir. Beautifully shot in the Ontario winter, this is clearly a Canadian show with Canadian concerns. The police are obviously Canadians, not Americans in disguise, right down to the RCMPs. The Québécoise Vanasse not only is allowed to keep her accent, she is actually playing a Québécoise rather than a French woman for a change. The missing girl is a First Nation child and some of the first episode is dedicated to whether she receive a traditional First Nation or a Christian funeral or not.
The show’s attempts at accurate depiction of Canadian police work also place it in the same court as the outstanding 19-2, which might now perhaps be considered a prototype of Canadian Noir. As well as being directed by Podz, who directed both the French version of the show, as well as the outstanding single-take tracking shot in the English-language version…
…19-2 has a similar, major theme: (spoiler) an internal investigation of the lead character by the partner. Whether that’ll become a defining feature of Canadian Noir remains to be seen.
The show’s high production values, general timbre, decent acting, beautiful direction and beautiful location filming do go a long way to cover up the fact that the plot itself is a bit hackneyed. Sure, there are variations from the standard clichés, with Cardinal’s deep dark secret involving his wife turning out to be unique for a detective show. But it’s a serial killer being chased by an obsessed, unhappy cop, rather than a content family man tracking down a white-collar fraudster between the hours of nine to five on weekdays. It’s not that innovative.
All the same, Cardinal is the best new drama out of Canada since 19-2 and a worthy addition to the Nordic Noir catalogue. Fingers crossed for a UK airing.
It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.
The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever.
Today’s is going to be the last WHYBW for quite some time now, since I’m off on my traditional summer break from next week. Whether I’ll take all of August off remains to be seen, but let’s not start promising anything at this point.
Before then, I’ll be reviewing the first episode of Vice Principals (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic) and I’ve got plans to have a look over a couple of French shows on Netflix and Amazon, too. I might even have a look at Netflix’s Stranger Things, which debuted on Friday.
I’ve already reviewed the first episode of Barracuda(Australia: ABC), but after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of 19-2, The Kettering Incident, The Last Ship,Outcast and Preacher, as well the return of Mr Robot and the rest of season two of Marco Polo. Given that I’m going to be away on holiday, will I employ my usual July ruthlessness and purge from the viewing list any that I can’t be bothered to catch up with? It’s a possibility…
At this point, I’d normally tell you about the movies I watched last week. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, we couldn’t get through either Joy or Hail, Caesar!, since they were both a bit dull. That might be the closest I ever get to reviewing them, but you never know.