I will not be reviewing the ten-episode miniseries based on The Mist. I apologize for any of you that may disappoint, but I decided after my experience with Under the Dome that I am oil and reviewing weekly television is water; we simply don't mix.
However, I feel obliged to at least off a few words about the pilot episode.
I'll begin with these words: I hope it gets better.
Yes, I surely do. Because this premiere episode is pretty mediocre. Not awful; there are going to be people calling it awful, but I can't roll with that, because I've seen Beyond Westworld, and know what awful is. THIS is mediocre, which is another thing altogether.
Know this, o reader: I could easily write you a 10,000 essay on how mediocre this episode of television is. I have the tools, and I have the talent. I don't have the time (or, if I'm being honest, the inclination). Work is hammering me like a nail lately, and so while I could write you that essay, I don't know where the eight hours to do so would come from. I owe Where No Blog Has Gone Before an essay of 10,000 words or so on "Balance of Terror," so that'd be what got my time, anyways.
But COULD I, in fact, write it?
Believe it. Because mediocrity drips off this sucker. I knew within thirty seconds what I was in for, because the filmmaking -- acting, editing, cinematography, sound design, set design, etc. -- cued me in to the nature of this particular beast. I've had this feeling before; any longtime viewer of genre television (certainly one of my age, 42) has seen many, many examples of it. I'll give you one: Under the Dome, which showed its colors as a mediocrity within the first few beats of its introductory scene, too.
The pilot for Under the Dome is superior to the pilot for The Mist, though, and if that rocks you back on your feet a little bit, you've had the correct reaction. Under the Dome went on from its mediocre pilot to be a genuinely bad series; I hope that that will not be the fate of The Mist, and I will certainly be watching to see.
One aspect in which I'd give Under the Dome the advantage is its concept. Say what you want, but that show had a great concept, courtesy of King's excellent novel, and the pilot more or less spiked the ball that King set for them. (Hey, volleyball reference!) It did so in lowbrow manner, but at least it did it. The Mist doesn't even manage that. King set the ball in his 1980 novella, and then Frank Darabont set it again in his 2007 movie, and you'd think a television series on a cable channel named Spike would know what to do next.
Uh-uh. This series sits there like Sissy Spacek in the opening scene of Carrie, gawping at the ball in obvious confusion; she knew enough to be on the court in uniform, but beyond that, she's all static. (And yes, for the record, I know that Carrie was spiked ON in that scene, not missing an opportunity to spike the ball herself. It's an imperfect metaphor, so sue me.)
The titular mist is, here, seemingly not the (partial) result of a violent storm that knocked something loose at the Arrowhead Project. No, there's no storm. The filmmakers behind this series have compared it to FX's Fargo series, which is more of a riff on -- or, if you prefer, a very imaginative critical essay about -- the Coen Brothers movie of the same name. I have no problem with that as an approach to Fargo, especially if the series is as good as that (imperfect but frequently inspired) series is. When I heard this was the goal for and approach to The Mist, I thought that was a great idea. I got quite excited by it. Subsequent evidence indicated that what would be happening was that Stephen King and/or Frank Darabont's The Mist would be happening across town, and this was a sort of a parallel story.
It might be that I read too much into that latter bit, in which case, my bad; that's on me, guys. The good news is that that's okay; I don't actually need this to be taking place in the same world, at the same time, as King's (or Darabont's) The Mist, provided I get a good series.
Thus far, this is not that. Only one episode has aired, and that's too soon to make a judgment.
Except ... IS it? In 2017, is it, really? I don't think it is. Circa 2017, you've got to hit the ground running if you're making a television series. I don't know that it would be fair to expect every series to have a pilot like the Westworld pilot, or even the Fargo pilot; but I think that at this point, if you aren't at least aiming for something in the general vicinity of those pilots, you are wasting everybody's time. I can't find the time to watch American Gods or The Handmaid's Tale or Twin Peaks, but you expect me to put up with something that would have been only so-so in 1997?
You're asking a lot. You've got the name "Stephen King" up front, so I'm granting you that time; but I'll be squinting at you until you give me a reason not to, which so far, you have not. What you've given me is a CGI mist, silly plot developments, inconsistent character development, and a decapitated dog head. I'll give you the time; I will give you zero slack. Am I expected to think that you having named a character "Mrs. Carmody" is enough? Am I supposed to think that killing her almost immediately is fun? What am I too take away from a decision like that? Do you even know, or is this one of those things where you think a reference is enough in and of itself? I fear that is the case, and if so, then this series is fucking doomed, because that's not storytelling, that's an Instagram feed.
There are things I liked relatively well here, though. My hope now shifts away from any -- ANY -- hope of fealty to King's novella toward the hope that the original characters who have been created can find focus and move the series in an interesting direction. The main characters are the Copelands, a husband and wife and 16-year-old daughter. The wife is a school teacher who just got fired for teaching material she wasn't allowed to teach in a sexual education class. Guess what? She SHOULD have been fired for that! Not for wanting to teach it, but for disobeying the curriculum; even if it's a shitty curriculum, it's her job to follow it. So fuck her. Anyways, her daughter supposedly gets raped at a party she's not allowed to attend, and her daughter has a queer best friend who's also somehow the family best friend, and none of this is exactly The Leftovers, but it's all fine. I'm interested in the queer friend, and in the relationships he seems to have with the senior Copelands; little is made of it here, but it's potentially fertile ground.
So if the series can take advantage of some of that, then maybe it's got gas in its tank. If it can't, woe unto those who watch it.
Other characters are less successful. A woman on the run from something could be the sister of Barbie from Under the Dome; I like the actress playing her, but she's incredibly poorly written. We're expected during her first scene to believe that she is a bit of a badass, and then later the tables get turned on her in an unconvincing manner that undermines all of her badassery; then, later still, not only does her badassery return, it triples. All of this is in service of where the writer wants the story to go; none of it makes any sense on its own, as individual scenes, and therefore it has no dramatic heft to it.
Even worse: the police chief, and if he wasn't bad enough, his deputies are even worse.
Frances Conroy, who was once on a prestige series named Six Feet Under, is set up to be a conspiracy-theorist / environmentalist-hippie type. I loved Conroy in Six Feet Under, but I'm already dreading the type of scenes she seems likely to be given here.
Bottom line: the episode just doesn't work. What's any of this got to do with Stephen King's The Mist? I don't know, and I should. After one episode of Noah Hawley's Fargo, I knew what relation it bore to the Coens' Fargo. For Spike's The Mist to have not succeeded on at least that level makes it a failure.
At least, so far. It's entirely possible the subsequent nine episodes will address my concerns. Maybe it will turn them on their head, even. Stranger things have happened. But this show isn't even vaguely as good as the actual Stranger Things, which also seemed to have a better handle on what makes Stephen King's work tick than this actual series with King's name on it.
This shit seem okay to you?
Nah, me neither.