‘The Mist’ Season One Premiere: Something Wicked This Way Comes

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First of all, a little history of myself and “The Mist.” I’m practically a lifelong fan of author Stephen King. When I was just a kid, I saw “The Shining” on cable TV and asked for a copy of the book, which became the second “adult” book I ever read, after “The Amityville Horror.” From then on, I was a die-hard fan, eventually graduating from tattered paperbacks to hardcovers and reading everything of King’s I could get my hands on- which continues to this day.

I first read “The Mist” in the anthology “Dark Forces,” which I picked up expressly because of King’s novella. I loved the tale immediately, and it instantly became one of my all-time favorites of his, and I couldn’t wait until they did a movie adaptation. Unfortunately, it would be a long while before that finally came to pass.

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In the meantime, one of the first audiobooks I ever heard was the “3D sound” edition of “The Mist,” which was actually more like a radio play, complete with full-blown acting performances from the cast and special effects that made it seem like you were inside the action of the story. It still holds up today, and I wish they had done more audiobooks like that one.

In 2007, at long last, there was a movie, by director Frank Darabont, best-known for his other excellent King adaptations, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” as well as for executive-producing and developing AMC’s “The Walking Dead” series. Remarkably, his take on the novella was even darker than the source material, with an ending that even gave King pause. While some quibbled about the overacting by some of the cast, particularly lead Thomas Jane, I’d like to think I’d be pretty overwrought, too, if something like that happened to me IRL!

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Then, just when it seemed “The Mist” saga was done, Spike, of all networks, announced it would be doing a TV version. The show is executive produced and largely written by award-winning Danish writer Christian Torpe, best-known for the Danish series “Rita,” which has already been remade twice in The Netherlands and France, respectively. Spike and Torpe have described it as more of a “reimagining” than a straight adaptation, not unlike Syfy’s version of King’s “The Colorado Kid,” the TV series “Haven.”

Judging from the pilot episode, Torpe missed the memo that the horror genre is supposed to have cardboard-thin characters that are more tropes than actual realistic human beings, so that you could care less when they die. Kidding! Actually, as King readers know, he has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you’ve known a character forever in a matter of pages. Happily, Torpe shares that ability.

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One wouldn’t expect such forward-thinking, well-drawn characters from such a Bro-friendly network as Spike, and yet, here they are. The premiere alone features a teenage girl, Alex (Gus Birney) that’s a victim of sexual assault, allegedly by the quarterback of the local high school’s football team, Jay (Luke Cosgrove)- who just so happens to be the son of the local Sheriff (Darren Pettie).

We don’t actually see it, and the girl in question is passed out drunk at the time, so the town only has the word of her best friend, Adrian (Russell Posner) to go on, and he isn’t exactly the most respected in town, being a gender-confused, likely gay teen.

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For the record, Adrien says that he’s “not sure” whether he’s into boys or girls, and to the show’s credit, we have a scene in which he ogles the football team a bit, as well as another in which some semblance of sparks fly between him and the tomboyish, troubled young woman Mia (Danica Curcic). (Shades of the underrated “Dead of Summer.”)

In no time, the Sheriff implies that he’s going to get his son a high-priced lawyer and make this all go away, while Adrian’s friends waste no time in slut-shaming the poor girl. Alex can’t remember what happened herself, but was a virgin at the time, and isn’t anymore, as evidenced by the state she woke up in and verified by a doctor, so… something clearly went down.

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The fact that the show doesn’t give you an easy answer right away is a daring gambit, not in the least in that it dares to make Jay relatively sympathetic. When his father obviously assumes Jay did it, he is clearly taken aback by the fact that he doesn’t even ask for his side of the story. My bet is that Adrian saw Jay in the vicinity, and likewise assumed he did it, but it’s actually probably someone else- likely Jay’s teammate, who bullied Adrian at the party, which Jay stepped in to stop.

The boy is also the ringleader of the group that throw a rock through Alex’s family’s window and write “whore” on the street outside her house, after she dares to accuse their ringleader of sexual assault. Or is he just deflecting from the fact he actually did it himself? Either way, it’s pretty heady stuff for a horror series to tackle on the premiere episode, much less on a network like Spike.

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The fact that most of these characters have layers at all is pretty exciting, which just goes to show how far horror has come in respectability in recent years, thanks in no small part to TV shows like the multi-award winning “American Horror Story” and impressive productions like “Salem” and the aforementioned “Walking Dead,” which place as much emphasis on quality writing as they do on delivering the gory goods.

I dare say that TV horror is outclassing the big screen variety more and more these days. Actually, one could say that in respect to TV against most movie efforts in any genre nowadays, IMHO, even down to the quality of actors they are landing more and more, with each passing year. Certainly actors of a certain age are faring better on TV than they are in movies these days, and the roles for women are of significantly better quality in general.

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While there aren’t a lot of familiar faces in “The Mist”- the only ones I recognized were Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under,” “American Horror Story”) and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (“The Wire,” “Veep”)- the acting is nonetheless pretty solid so far. That lack of big-name stars may be to keep costs down, but make no mistake, the production level of quality is pretty high.

It’s pretty obvious that they’re going to be focusing in on a few key locations once the action begins in earnest- a shopping mall, the police station, a church- but that’s to be expected for a relatively low-budget show. Besides, that’s in keeping with the original novella, which largely took place in a grocery store.

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I also liked that the show wasn’t afraid to take risks. In addition to the aforementioned date rape-type storyline, there’s the fact that Alex’s father Kevin (Morgan Spector) went against her mother’s wishes and let her go to that party where she was raped, which, needless to say, causes some conflict between the two. Also, Eve (Alyssa Sutherland, “Vikings”), the wife and mother in question, apparently has a bad reputation in town for being a former “bad girl” herself, which only adds to the layers of what’s going on.

Like I said, it’s kind of unusual for the horror genre to have such complex characters and scenarios, but such is becoming the case these days more and more, and I really appreciate it, as a longtime fan of the genre. With each show or movie that gains respectability, the more the genre as a whole gains from it, and I am so there for that.

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Besides, if you’re going to do that sort of thing, King is clearly the man to use as a source of inspiration, as he’s been doing it long before such things were fashionable in the horror genre. There’s a reason his work has endured over the years. This version of “The Mist” may be more of a “spin-off” than a straight adaptation, but it absolutely feels like something the man himself might have done.

About the only complaint I have thus far is that the FX are a little CGI-heavy for my tastes. One of the things I love about “The Walking Dead” is the mix of both old-school practical effects and CGI. It isn’t always seamless, but it works for me, more often than not, as a bit of a purist where that sort of thing is concerned. Here, they are leaning a bit too hard on the CGI, but I’ve seen worse, I suppose. The real test will be once they start showing whatever is lurking in the mist.

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In the novella, it’s sort of a hybrid of 50’s and 60’s-era giant creature features and Lovecraftian otherworldly beasties zapped in from another dimension by military experiments-gone-awry. It remains to be seen what we’ll get here, but I look forward to it. So far, the good definitely outweighs the bad, in my book.

Join me next month for another check-in on the series, at around the halfway mark for the 10-episode season, and until then, let me know what you thought of the show down below! Thanks for reading!