Monday, July 23, 2018

A Look at "The Search For Castle Rock"

Last week, Hulu released a brief (23ish minutes) documentary called The Search For Castle Rock.  I decided to write a little summary of it as part of Part 16 of my Guided Tour Of The Kingdom series of posts (which you'll see at some in the future).  I ended up writing a little bit more about it than I'd planned, and thought that it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and just toss it up here, if only so as to provoke some Castle Rock conversation.
  
Confession: while I will absolutely be watching that series on Hulu when it starts later this week, I have no plans whatsoever of writing about it here.  Also, I'm not as sold on the idea as many King fans seem to be.  I'll get into some of my reasons for that below.
  
Though I'll not be writing anything about the show on a weekly basis, I'd be more than happy to discuss it in the comments section for this post; so there's another reason for the post's existence, potentially.
  
*****
  
  
  
  
This twenty-three-minute documentary short is essentially just a promotional piece for Castle Rock, the Hulu original series from producer J.J. Abrams.  I wouldn't normally cover that sort of thing here, but this is an interesting and very professionally-produced documentary, plus, hey, I got no real reason not to.
  
"Haunted places have long been a staple in Stephen King's writing," says a narrator at the beginning.  "That's because the locations that inspired his writing have dark histories themselves."
  
Right here, you get a sense of what this documentary -- and perhaps the broader scope of Castle Rock itself -- may be trying to accomplish: this is myth-building, in which Stephen King is being turned from a man into a myth.  What we are glimpsing is a bit of what seems likely to happen once King has reached the clearing at the end of the path and is no longer among the living: the shadow's ability to persist once the body itself has vanished.
  
I suppose this was always inevitable.  And it's probably preferable, right?  I mean, it's happened before.  Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickens, so forth and so on; all exist in our minds at least as much on a mythical realm as on a literal one.  This happens with rock stars, too, and probably with anyone famous whose fame has any reason to outlive their bodies.
  
And yet, I have to confess to feeling a little grumpy about it.  I mean, can't this wait until King is dead?  Dude is still building his own myth; two books a year, most years.  There's no reason on Earth he can't live and write and publish well into his nineties, so there may be entire chapters of that life yet to be written; maybe the myth-making can slow its roll.
  

It'd be equally true that I should slow my own roll.  After all, King himself has been helping to build his eventual mythical self for literally decades now.  He may well have approved of this documentary on those grounds, or even initiated it himself in some way.  I don't mind any of that; why would I?  I think I only mind the reminder that one of these days -- and likely within my own lifetime -- that baton will be passed from the real man to the mythical man.  And I'd prefer that be no time soon.
  
"Imagine a place where horror lives," the narrator (Dave Holmes) says a bit later; "where people live under a dark and mysterious cloud.  A sleepy small town; an all-American Main Street; in King's world, these become the places that haunt you."
  
Note that Holmes says "in King's world," not "in King's work."  Here, he is making a push toward establishing the Kingian myth not as a body of fiction, but as a worldview.  I'm not sure I like this.  It feeds into concerns I have about Castle Rock itself, and the possibility that "Stephen King" is going to be turned into a brand after his death wherein we'll be deluged by an endless series of books/movies/series that are "inspired" by his work and seek primarily to cash in on his supposed aesthetic.  This is an idea that makes me very, very apprehensive; if it happens, it will likely devalue his individual worth quite a bit, and will likely be an abuse of his legacy.  I'd like to think his estate will be more guarded than that, but I'm not sure King himself is more guarded than that; so what ability might his estate have to resist it?
  
Let's not hold all of that (hypothetical) misery against this particular documentary, however; it's too enjoyable for that.  Part of what makes it fun is beautiful photography of Maine landmarks and places that obviously influenced King's work.  Let's have a look at some of those:
  
  
    












  
Throughout, there are interviews with King-community noteworthies such as Gerald Winters, filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams, and local historians who talk about things like Native American curses and whether the real Carrie lived on a certain road or not.  One of the historians spends several minutes focusing on a particular incident in which a Native American infant was drowned by some do-gooding hicks.  This is not (so far as I am aware) something that has any relevance to King's work, so I'm strongly tempted to assume that it must play into whatever the story of the first season of Castle Rock ends up being.  I just don't see much reason for it to be in there otherwise (apart from being interesting in its own right, of course).
  
Stu Tinker, who runs SK Tours of Maine, shows up to provide a genial presence and some fun anecdotes; I'd like to go up there and take his tour one of these days.
  
There's also a decent amount of footage from Castle Rock itself, all of which, I have to confess, looks pretty great.
  
Finally, let's talk about Easter Eggs.  I fucking hate them; I like occasional specific examples, but on the whole, I think they are a conceptual scourge on adaptations of King's work.  And at this point, if you're a King "fan" seeking to prove your mettle by referencing other King works, surely you deserve to have to wear a dunce cap if you do this:
  
  

  
And yet, that's not the only time you see "237" in this documentary.  Stu Tinker's car key is on a Room 237 Overlook key tag!  Now, Stu Tinker, of all people, knows that King's The Shining involves Room 217, and that it's Kubrick's The Shining that uses 237; he also knows that King has a major beef against Kubrick's movie.  So, presumably, do the people who made this documentary short.
  
What gives?  Why would you not use this opportunity to try to reclaim Room 217's rightful place in Kingian lore?  You're in MYTHBUILDING mode here, for fuck's sake!  You are MAKING THE MYTH RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND!  In using "237," you're admitting defeat: you're admitting that Kubrick's The Shining is more important than King's The Shining, and always will be; and though I am a huge fan of that movie, I find this to be a very curious decision.  Not in the good way, either.
  
Even worse, the short ends with three brief teasers that play alongside the end credits.  Whether these are actually from the show or might instead be standalone promo pieces, I don't know.  What I do know is that the third one is a riff on Cujo that was seemingly assembled by someone who'd neither read the novel nor seen the movie:
  
  
The Cambers never thought Cujo was lost.  Doesn't happen.

This appears to be a Pinto, which means we're meant to think this is Donna Trenton's car.  And yet, she's clearly in a residential area of some sort; she's certainly not in the isolated area where the attack from Cujo happens.
  
A short card establishes the setting of this vignette as "1981," by the way, so ... yeah.  I don't get it.  I really just don't understand the intent of this vignette.  Is it to make people who don't actually know anything about Cujo think, "Hey, Cujo!"
  
If that's the level at which Castle Rock going to operate, then I'm not sure I'm interested.
  
But maybe there's something I'm just not considering.
  
In any case, this little documentary is, despite my complaints, a good bit of fun.  It's on YouTube (right here) if you'd like to see it for yourself, and if you do, let me know what you think.
  
I'll leave you with a few other screencaps I took:
  
  
Small-town Maine historian with extensive tattoos and a love of Stephen King?  This receives the official Truth Inside The Lie stamp of approval.



   
  

25 comments:

  1. Maybe the Cujo thing has been changed around for Castle Rock. Maybe Cujo went crazy without the family knowing, then ran away. They'd still think the dog was lost instead of crazy and it would make sense. Castle Rock doesn't seem to be adapting King's work as much as it is drawing on it for inspiration and characters.

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    1. You might be right, in which case I'd say I'm going to be deeply unimpressed by it.

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  2. I'm just not impressed with JJ Abrams, pretty much. But, looking forward to checking out the series - mainly because I already have Hulu and can actually watch it easily. Not always the case, that!

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    1. I'd say I've liked Abrams' work more often than not. I suspect he's not actually all that involved in this show; it seems to have primarily been the work of Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, who previously were responsible for the WGN series "Manhattan." I never saw it, but I remember people raving about it. So we'll see, I guess.

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  3. 1. "I suppose this (myth-building, sic) was always inevitable. And it's probably preferable, right? I mean, it's happened before. Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickens, so forth and so on; all exist in our minds at least as much on a mythical realm as on a literal one. This happens with rock stars, too, and probably with anyone famous whose fame has any reason to outlive their bodies."

    I'm not so sure, at least when it comes to question of the memory of pop-culture. Lovecraft is still a known quantity. Ditto Shakespeare, although it seems less like fame and more ubiquity. I'm not sure many kids today even know who Hemingway and Dickinson were at all. I almost worry that if I ask a post-millennial "Is Raymond Douglas Bradbury a fictional character?", then the inevitable response would be: ".....Um...Yes?"

    You think that scenario sounds intimidating? Check out this post from another blog on "How movies become Obscure":

    http://www.thecinemologists.com/2017/02/how-movies-become-obscure.html

    2. "Note that Holmes says "in King's world," not "in King's work." Here, he is making a push toward establishing the Kingian myth not as a body of fiction, but as a worldview. I'm not sure I like this. It feeds into concerns I have about Castle Rock itself, and the possibility that "Stephen King" is going to be turned into a brand after his death wherein we'll be deluged by an endless series of books/movies/series that are "inspired" by his work and seek primarily to cash in on his supposed aesthetic. This is an idea that makes me very, very apprehensive; if it happens, it will likely devalue his individual worth quite a bit, and will likely be an abuse of his legacy".

    I think this is pretty much the main concern not just with King, but a lot of other IPs.

    What I personally hope is that where the father leaves off, then the son will simply step up to fill in the gap. In other words, I hope Joe Hill will be willing to (a) take up wherever his dad leaves off and (b) that Hill, along with the rest of the King family, will get not just IP ownership, but also the sole right to decide what becomes of the family legacy.

    My concern is also that they'll find themselves in the same conundrum as the Tolkien family:

    https://www.wired.com/2012/11/tolkien-lawsuit/

    ChrisC

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    1. 1. "I'm not sure many kids today even know who Hemingway and Dickinson were at all." Good point. Most of them probably don't even know who Mark Twain is.

      2. Well, there's virtually no doubt that something of that nature will happen. King already sold the rights off to lots of his properties, so the cat's out of the bag. I'm sure Joe and Owen would be terrific curators of their father's legacy, but they'll likely only be able to control what happens with the books themselves.

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  4. I think the show could be good or even great, but I don't think referencing the man's work will make it good or great. So as much as I'm looking forward to the show, I can't help but think it is just using the "Stephen King brand" as a hook for a series that should try to stand on its own.

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    1. That's a legitimate concern, I think. That feeds into part of why the Easter-egg stuff irks me so badly. Any idiot can put King Easter eggs into a movie or tv show; they're not difficult to do. And it always means that X number of people are going to feel more connected to the material because they've been given proof that the people making the show have heard of the same books and movies they've heard of. But, I mean ... a reference to "The Shining"? Not difficult. It's like being a Red Sox player and hitting a home run on a little-league field. Wow. And I should be *impressed* by that...?

      I do agree with you, though, this stuff won't make or break the series. It's just gristle for clickbait articles, and that's probably how it was intended.

      That said, Jane Levy's character is apparently named Jackie Torrance. So...yeah.

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    2. Thanks for replying. I missed that Jackie Torrance bit altogether in the lead up this. It's getting more stupid and yet more funny the more I think about it. I suppose Danielle Torrance is her daughter, and Wendell Torrance her long suffering husband?

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    3. I'm guessing she's a distant cousin of the more famous J. Torrance; she'll mention her cousin Danny she hasn't seen in forever or something like that, and we'll be expected to stand up and applaud.

      Man, I'm really grumpy about all of this! And for no real great reason. Yet.

      Despite my snark and negativity, I really am looking forward to the show. It's got an awesome cast, if nothing else, but it looks really good. So hopefully I'll be able to let go of my cynical side while watching it.

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  5. Ha ha- did you notice how in the title sequence of the show they have "217" floating around? It's like the producers saw your complaint and threw that in there to prove that they're with it.

    Curious what you think of the first episodes. I'm enjoying it, enjoy the cast, but I don't really read "Stephen King" too much beyond the character and location references. Tonally, thematically, stylistically it doesn't resemble King to me.

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    1. I did notice that 217, yeah!

      I liked the first three episodes a lot. The cast is incredible, the story is intriguing, it's really well-directed and looks great. Nothing not to like.

      However, I agree that there just not much of anything that makes it King. This town feels nothing like the Castle Rock I think of from the novels; this doesn't feel like that Maine. There's a psychic and there's a guy who's returning to a town he once lived in and there's Easter eggs (sigh) galore. But substantively, is this really any more "Stephen King" than The Rage Carrie 2 is? I'm not convinced, and while I'm happy to indulge these filmmakers if the episodes are going to be as good as the first three are, I'm still worried about what happens when less talented filmmakers start doing the same thing and it gets credit for being "Stephen King."

      We live in strange times. And that adjective makes me remember some of the questions I was asking about the first season of "Stranger Things" after I saw it: should THAT count as "Stephen King"? In some ways, I get more of a King vibe from that than I do from "Castle Rock" so far. So is it purely the legal license to call the one show "Stephen King" and not the other that would prevent me? Is that an important enough distinction? If not, where is the line?

      These are questions I have.

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    2. Couldn't agree more, the town in the show doesn't seem particularly Rock-esque. There's been a lot of talk about how the town itself harbors evil, but it just seems like...some place? Considering the show is named after it and the Terry O'Quinn voiceover is diving right in with the cryptic "place of evil" narration, the location is pretty generic. You might have hit the nail on the head as to the biggest problem with making this series a 'Stephen King world.'

      Lord knows there have been multiple movies and TV series that abuse King's name, but for one with a mission of being the "expanded/unifying SK universe" you'd thing this one would do more than throw out cute CUJO references. Then it's just Nurse Annie Wilkes at the end of RIDING THE BULLET ad nauseam. STRANGER THINGS obviously doesn't want to limit itself to evoking King (they've gotta get Spielberg and Carpenter, etc. in there too) but you'd think CASTLE ROCK, a show that opens every episode with pages from King's books, would try harder to bring the King-ness.

      I guess the Bill Skarsgard subplot of "creepy mystery loner who's evil" is a staple we see in THE DARK HALF, NEEDFUL THINGS, STORM OF THE CENTURY, the basic Randall Flagg mold, although those guys are usually chatty and hum rock songs. The Kid apparently causes people to have cancer like the villain in THE OUTSIDER and the fact that he's a magic guy in prison suggests GREEN MILE. Is this a "Howling Man" scenario where he has to stay locked up to keep the town's evil in check?

      But yeah, Holland, Lynskey, Levy, Spacek, Glenn, Conroy, Cusack - everybody is so good on the show so far! I'm more than willing to indulge the show if the acting caliber stays this high.

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    3. For sure; great acting goes a long way with me.

      Weirdly, the lack of blatant King-iness is kind of okay with me. I mean, I can and will complain about it to some degree, but I'm just as apt to complain if I were to get the feeling that they're pandering to try to make it all shout "STEPHEN KING!!!!!" every few minutes.

      I'm not sure where the line is. For now, I think they're on the right side of it.

      I'm also just inCREDibly grumpy about almost everything these days, so the odds of something about the show getting on my nerves were always pretty good (and much more my fault than theirs).

      That's a good call on the possible "Howling Man" homage. If that's what they're doing, that's pretty cool; you can do a lot worse than mine old Twilight Zone episodes for material. I can also imagine that they're doing the opposite of that scenario. It has potential either way!

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    4. It's a weird dichotomy: on the one hand, tipping their hat too much to King and filling every episode with easter eggs like the DARK TOWER movie would be obnoxious. On the other, I just don't know why they'd come up with a cool premise for a show that isn't distinctly King-like and not just let it be its own thing! I guess the closest comparison is the FARGO tv show, which is most successful when it's able to resemble the tonal spirit of the Coen Brothers without hitting the viewer over the head with references. You certainly don't *need* thick New England accents, evil pets, bullies and sentient vehicles to evoke King - but at the same time, there's just a vein running through King's work that they haven't tapped into at this point, which I'd be curious to see if they more successfully access as the show progresses.

      So yeah, I think we're very much on the same page. At the end of the day, it's funny to complain when the larger point is "pretty good so far!"

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    5. Yeah. I'd imagine comments like these would make the people who are writing and producing the series want to just slit their wrists under the assumption that they'll never be able to win.

      Which, hey, we'll see.

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  6. Still publishing well into his nineties? I think you've crossed into "hilariously optimistic" territory here. And I bet he's become well aware of his advanced years, and may even have taken steps to influencing whatever legacy he's hoping for. I'd love to be wrong, but I think the days of getting 1-2 books a year from Uncle Steve are numbered.

    I'm a little sorry that you won't be featuring more of the Castle Rock series on here, especially when the reaction has been almost all positive so far. I'll just have to settle for engaging with you in the comment section, I guess.

    There's a lot worse than to be "inspired by". After all, King himself has named a number of writers and movies that profoundly influenced his work. Some of that stuff could be quite good, even great. But I understand the tendency to become more grumpy as you get older. I can't say it's likely to help you land a Mrs. Bryant, or even get you laid, but I can see how an enthusiastic blogger would want to help with the safekeeping of all things King.

    I second what solongyoubastard said above. Fargo would be a great example to aspire to, maybe even the ideal. I don't know how much of its three seasons you've seen, but they really do a fantastic job of evoking the movie and the Coens without being too cutesy about it. You get a few references to other Coen works, but for me it hasn't hurt the series to this point (that I can recall). I think sometimes you do get standalone shout-outs in promotional material, and hopefully that's what some of this is (at least the Cujo poster, for the love of God). I'm with you on the 217/237 question, but I'm afraid that decision was probably made under the assumption that 237 would be understood by far more, and that "they" are probably correct. (Although what is the number 74 in King lore? I know 19 is related to the tower, but I couldn't find any meaning to 74).

    I'm afraid I don't see as strong a connection between Stranger Things and King as you apparently do. There's certainly an influence, but I think Spielberg casts a longer shadow, by far. If nothing else, the intensity level is waaaaay too PG-13. You can go pretty dark with a PG-13, but King is undeniably willing to go far darker than Spielberg, and Stranger Things is firmly in the camp of the former.

    If you ever make the trip to that SK Tour of Maine, count me in. That sounds like a great way to spend a few days and some disposable income.

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    1. "Still publishing well into his nineties? I think you've crossed into "hilariously optimistic" territory here."

      Nope. Optimistic, yes; "hilariously" optimistic? Not at all.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_centenarians_(authors,_poets_and_journalists)

      "I'm a little sorry that you won't be featuring more of the Castle Rock series on here, especially when the reaction has been almost all positive so far."

      It's tempting, but in the past when I've done weekly reviews/recaps of television shows, I've found it to be very unnatural to the way I watch television. I'll enjoy watching more -- or hate watching less! (as the case may be) -- if I'm not doing so for the purposes of blogging.

      "There's a lot worse than to be "inspired by". After all, King himself has named a number of writers and movies that profoundly influenced his work."

      True. To my knowledge, none of them were then billed as being "from the mind of Richard Matheson" or whatever. We're in the dawning era of "Stephen King" being treated primarily as IP, and it's got a strong potential for bullshit.

      "But I understand the tendency to become more grumpy as you get older. I can't say it's likely to help you land a Mrs. Bryant, or even get you laid, but I can see how an enthusiastic blogger would want to help with the safekeeping of all things King."

      True enough. The ship has sailed on that, anyways; it's not a focus of mine, and if it was I'd be so bummed out all the time I wouldn't be able to function!

      "Fargo would be a great example to aspire to, maybe even the ideal. I don't know how much of its three seasons you've seen, but they really do a fantastic job of evoking the movie and the Coens without being too cutesy about it."

      Totally agreed. I've seen all three seasons and loved them all. Hopefully there will be a fourth!

      "Although what is the number 74 in King lore? I know 19 is related to the tower, but I couldn't find any meaning to 74"

      The only thing I can think is that "74" stands for 1974, the year King's first novel was published, meaning a designation for what most people mark as the true beginning of his career. I think that's selling some of those short-story years down the river, personally, but I understand why people would date his career that way.

      "I'm afraid I don't see as strong a connection between Stranger Things and King as you apparently do."

      To clairify, I'm referring more to the way the show was marketed than the actual content. Go back to the summer that first season was released; King's name was all OVER the place in relation to that show. Spielberg's, too (rightly so -- I agree with you that his influence was more palpable than King's), but if you were a casual observer who read a bunch of headlines for those few weeks, you'd be forgiven for thinking King actually had something to do with the series.

      "If you ever make the trip to that SK Tour of Maine, count me in. That sounds like a great way to spend a few days and some disposable income."

      Wouldn't that be cool? A sort of official meetup for readers of the blog? I'm not able to do it any time soon, but that's a cool idea for some vague point in the future, no doubt.

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    2. Pardon me for jumping in, but I love this last idea. I can even offer a base of operations just over the border from Kingsville in Conway, NH (not far from where he had his fateful meeting with Bryan Smith). Like you I can't do anything like this anytime soon, but in 2021 I'll be in NH for at least a few days and there's a potential target date. (Some old high school buddies and I have a 10-year-reunion hiking trip planned from one we did in 2011; whether or not this happens, this is the next time I'll be there, most likely. I think, too, we're supposed to stop an alien invasion of some kind and protect the mentally handicapped; don't quote me on this last part.)

      https://binged.it/2OxuAzk

      Who knows what King projects might materialize between now and then to augment that map. (Or if we wanted to add stuff like Mount Desert Island.)

      Fun idea, at least!

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    3. Not a bad idea! Let's tentatively put it on the agenda.

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  7. So the fifth episode of the series debuted today, and there's a couple of things in it that REALLY did not sit well with me.

    Thing the first: Jane Levy's character is named Jackie torrance because her uncle, Jack Torrance, killed his family and she thinks that is kind of rad and wants to be a writer just like him so she took his name to piss her parents off. Ugh.

    Thing the second (and by far the more noxious): this episode seems to indicate that in this continuity (or on this level of the Tower, if you prefer), Polly Chalmers never existed. Or if she did was never mixed up with Alan Pangborn. If the episode didn't make it clear enough and left you wondering if mayyyyyybe you'd just heard things wrong, no, you sure didn't. the latest episode of the Stephen King Cast features a lengthy interview with Dustin Thomason, co-creator of the show, wherein he says that they didn't want to have Polly on the show so they could instead focus on the relationship they wanted to establish with Alan and Ruth Deaver.

    You just lost me, show.

    The relationship between Alan and Polly is a MAJOR component of a MAJOR King novel; so much so that it is referenced in a later King novel ("Bag of Bones," I think). I understand you wanting to tell your own story, but if you've created a series where the ENTIRE FUCKING POINT is to pay homage to and tie together various King works, and one of your major decisions is to then ignore a plot point as significant as this one so that it won't inconvenience you, then all of a sudden I don't know what the hell you're doing.

    I've enjoyed the series so far, but this episode was a massive disappointment to me.

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    1. No joke I was literally just writing you to ask what you'd meant by your comment on the Stephen King cast. Then I saw this. Aha! Yeah, that's.... odd.

      Dawn was just asking me if we were going to watch this and I told her my faith in JJ Abrams is fairly non-existent, so I wanted to give it a good stretch of episodes. If I heard there were no cracks just yet, I'd proceed with caution, but the guy just doesn't have any follow-through or long-term vision: just long-term ad campaigns, tied together.

      But this is something else. Like you say, if the idea of the show is to explore "the Kingverse," then... maybe not subvert said 'verse.

      I just googled Ruth Deaver as I can't recall the details of her character too well, and EVERY hit was Sissy Spacek. Has the book-Ruth been memory-holed? I clicked through 3 pages of hits and not a single mention of Ruth Deaver from the books. Correct my faulty memory - is she from NEEDFUL THINGS, as well? Which character was she?

      That's terrible, though.

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    2. Oh and agreed: that "Jackie Torrance" thing is wicked dumb.

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    3. p.s. I'm sure King, when asked, will say it's brilliant.

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    4. Ruth Deaver is 100% a creation of this series.

      So what we've got here is some assholes decided to just make some shit up, slap the name "Stephen King" on it, and call it a loving homage. It's exactly what I was afraid it would end up being. Oh, but it's alright because they have Alan give a little speech about how he wanted to be a magician when he was a kid.

      Awful.

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