The Spike network’s ‘The Mist’ is the latest attempt to turn a Stephen King story into a serialized television drama. With that in mind, most fans of the author (or of quality television) must surely be questioning whether the show will be as awful as CBS’s ill-fated ‘Under the Dome’. Sadly, it’s too soon to tell, but I’m not ruling that possibility out just yet.
‘The Mist’ first started out as a novella in the 1980 horror anthology book ‘Dark Forces’, and as such was one of the famously verbose author’s shorter works. That makes it particularly ironic that it might be chosen as the basis for a long-form serialized narrative. The story had already been adapted to screen once before as a 2007 feature film directed by Frank Darabont. I’ve neither read the book nor seen that movie, but as far as I can tell, the TV version is not directly copied from either. Many of the details regarding the setting and characters have been changed around, though the basic premise remains the same.
The pilot episode opens with a man in military garb waking up in the woods with a dog at his side. He has amnesia and only learns that his name is Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro) by looking at his dog tags. Suddenly, a strange fog rolls in and the dog runs into it barking. Bryan chases after it, hears a bunch of scary noises, and then finds the dog’s corpse skinned and hanging from a tree.
The remainder of the episode takes place in the idyllic (fictional) community of Bridgeville, Maine. We’re introduced to a host of characters and the very soapy melodramas of their lives. It’ll be a full 40 minutes before that fog, supposedly the central conceit of the narrative, shows up again.
In the meantime, we learn all about Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland from ‘Vikings’) and her family. Eve was just let go from her job as a high school teacher because her frank sex ed class upset certain members of the extremely conservative community. Hypocritically, she’s quite overprotective and sheltering of her own teenage daughter, Alex (Gus Birney), and forbids her from going to a party with her friends. Dad Kevin (Morgan Spector) is more sympathetic and allows Alex to go so long as she brings along her makeup-wearing, bisexual BFF Adrian, whom both Eve and Kevin consider to be totally nonthreatening. Sadly, Alex gets roofied and raped at the party. Adrian pins the crime on football jock Jay, who happens to be the son of a local cop. It seems pretty obvious to me, however, that Adrian himself is actually responsible.
Also seemingly important are elderly hippie Natalie Raven (Frances Conroy) and a gruff, ass-kicking junkie name Mia, who gets arrested for something to do with a bag full of cash.
When Bryan runs into town raving that, “There was something in the mist!”, the town’s dipshit cops assume he’s just drunk or crazy and throw him in a cell for the night.
Eventually, finally, the fog rolls into town and bad things start happening. First, all cell phone service in the town dies. Then a moron cop is swarmed by bugs while taking selfies in the mist. Mrs. Raven’s husband is murdered when a crazed stranger walks up babbling “Are you real?” and shoots him, then kills himself. Eve and Alex get trapped at a mall when the power goes out and one of the disapproving moms who got Eve fired storms outside, only to be attacked by something unseen that rips half the woman’s face off and drags her away.
Kevin and Adrian happened to be at the police station answering questions about Alex’s rape when all this craziness started. When all the cops are either killed or flee, Bryan and Mia beg to be let out of their cells. Kevin frees them, but is wary of letting Mia handle a gun until the selfie-cop stumbles back inside, most of his head eaten away by bugs, and attacks him. Mia saves him by shooting the cop, at which point Kevin is fine with her keeping the gun.
At the end of the episode, Alex discovers that Jay, her accused rapist, is also stuck at the mall with her. Awkward!
Right off the bat, the premise of this story – in which the members of a small Maine community are trapped in their town by a mysterious supernatural force – is uncomfortably similar to ‘Under the Dome’. Even though nothing in the premiere episode is quite as abjectly terrible as, for example, the last two-and-a-half seasons of ‘Dome’, I seem to recall that show starting off with some promise in the early first season. Honestly, I’m not sure whether this series actually has a weaker opening, or if I’m just more skeptical due to having been burned.
Whatever the case, the first episode is frankly kind of boring until the evil fog finally shows up at the end. I don’t find any of the characters particularly interesting, and way too much screen time is spent on their domestic melodramas. It takes far too long for the monsters to come to town and shit to get crazy – and when that does happen, the hour is suddenly over just as the good stuff gets started.
Perhaps that means that subsequent episodes could be a lot better once the boring drama is dispensed with. I hope so, but I’m not overly confident about that. The writers and producers are going to need to stretch this out as far as they can. Otherwise, I have many doubts about how this thin concept can sustain a TV series for an entire season, much less for potential multiple seasons.