A solid reimagining of the Stephen King novella of the same name, The Mist is an intriguing new example of scary TV. King’s story, first published in 1980, was a demonstration of the way the author can take absolutely any person, place, or thing and imbue it with menace. I mean, if you told me to think up a scenario in which fog becomes frightening, I’d be stumped. Not King. He turned out a fiction that operated like a Weather Channel version of a haunted-house tale, in which a nonliving phenomenon — the mist settling over a small town in Maine — lets loose terror. In the new Mist series premiering Thursday on Spike TV, people in Bridgton, Maine, react initially the way you or I would: Aw, it’s just some fog, it’ll blow over — let’s hop in the car and go to the mall. But the next thing you know, one of your neighbors is staggering around with half her face ripped off and getting blood on your sneakers.
The Mist has been adapted before, of course. Director Frank Darabont made a movie out of it in 2007. So the new Mist adapter, writer-producer Christian Thorpe, had his work cut out for him: How to make it new? His solution was to open up King’s story. Instead of confining the suspense to a tight little supermarket, Thorpe spreads it all through the town. Thorpe also does without any number of King’s characters and develops some of his own, a much more serious risk.
To judge by just the first hour, he seems to be pretty successful in his efforts. Much of the premiere is spent with Eve (Alyssa Sutherland), a teacher who’s just been suspended for dispensing some non-school-approved sex education to her students. She’s married to a nice-guy writer, Kevin (Morgan Spector), and they have a 15-year-old daughter, Alex (Gus Birney), who has a crush on a high school football star. Eve is overprotective and strict with her daughter; dad is an easy mark, willing to let the kid explore her own life a little.
This could have been a dull little nuclear family, but Thorpe latches onto Stephen King’s greatest talent — an ability to make the most ordinary-seeming family unit distinctive and intriguing. In particular, Eve is prickly and easy to anger, but in a way that suggests a hard-won wisdom. You leave the first hour wanting to know what’s up with her backstory. Some of the other characters don’t fare as well. I assume we’ll learn a lot more, for instance, about the soldier who has a terrifying experience at the start of the show but spends the rest of the time just yelping variations on “It’s coming! It’s coming!” And you don’t cast Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy just to have her putter in the garden and notice that, gee, there are an awful lot of frogs this season; I assume we’ll get a lot more from her.
Right now, though, this Mist looks promising. The terror of the title entity is well portrayed via special effects. This early entry in the unofficial Year of the King (off the top of my head, there’s the Dark Tower movie later this summer, an IT feature film, J.J. Abrams’s Castle Rock anthology series for Hulu, and David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Mr. Mercedes) is an energetic effort.
The Mist premieres Thursday, June 22, at 10 p.m. on Spike.
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