'The Mist': TV Review
The pilot of Spike TV's Stephen King adaptation is full of flat characters and CGI fog, but very little drama or terror.
Like Harry Lime in The Third Man, the title character in Spike's The Mist spends more time in the pilot being discussed than actually wreaking any havoc.
Probably sensing that the premise of a small Maine town terrorized by a malevolent rolling fog and its concealed abominations isn't bottomless, The Mist opts for a slow burn and introduces its characters in normal circumstances for at least two-thirds of its opening hour. That's not the worst of ideas in principle, but in practice, if nobody in the cast initially seems all that likable, interesting, clever or appealing, asking viewers to root for their survival becomes much more difficult.
Because of the special-effects requirements on The Mist, Spike was only able to send one episode to critics before the show's premiere, so it's impossible to know if heightened drama eventually brings out the best (or at least "better") in these characters. And based on the pilot, even the fully realized special effects leave something to be desired, while the humans suffer from what I'd call the Fear the Walking Dead Syndrome, or Under the Dome if you want to stick to the Stephen King universe.
Adapted from the same King novella that yielded Frank Darabont's 2007 film, but bearing only superficial resemblance to either, The Mist was created by Christian Torpe and begins with a man (Okezie Morro) in military fatigues waking up in the wilderness. His ID says he's Brian Hunt, but he has no memories, so he's probably not really Brian Hunt. But since I don't yet know who Brian Hunt is, I can't be sure if it matters.
"Brian" befriends a dog, then a thick mist begins to encroach and, wouldn't you know it, there's something else in the mist. Brian flees and heads toward a sleepy Maine community. (My notes somehow call it "Bridgeton," "Bridgeville" and "Bridgton," which mostly means "It doesn't matter.") The mist, as scary as it may be, is nearly two days behind him, which is a very slow advancing pace for a supernatural phenomenon that's supposed to instantly terrify us. Brian's yelling things like, "There's something in the mist. It's on its way," but neither the residents nor the pilot take him seriously. The mist will arrive when it's good and ready.
Instead, we're playing a very slow game of getting-to-know-you with the Copeland family. Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) has just been relieved of her duties as a high school teacher because her version of sex education was too liberal for certain parents, who give her the stink-eye at every opportunity. They seem almost certain by episode two to be ranting about how whatever's happening inside the mist is God's vengeance or something.
Her husband Kevin (Morgan Spector) is a writer, I think? The only notable thing about his character is that he doesn't abide by traditional versions of Maine masculinity, so people sneer at him, too. They have a daughter, 16-year-old Alex (Gus Birney), who has a crush on the high school QB (Luke Cosgrove) and a best friend (Russell Posner), who isn't necessarily gay but definitely also challenges the community's version of masculinity.
A high school party leads to accusations of sexual assault, and a whole season's worth of cliches — the arrest in the high school hallways, disgruntled football players throwing a brick through a window, skeptical doctors — are bungled and rushed in 25 minutes. That leaves me with no confidence that this tough subject matter is going to be well-handled in a show that's really about creepy-crawly killer things in the mist.
And yes, I understand that the gimmick of The Mist in all its incarnations is that what's happening outside is murky and unknowable and terrifying, but what's truly terrifying is what happens to people under pressure, right? The true mist is our murky morality and the true unknowable evil that lurks in the hearts of men? I don't doubt that Torpe knows how this is supposed to work thematically, but I do doubt the execution.
So far, the supporting characters represent banality more than the banality of evil. Frances Conroy plays a gardening woman with presumably hippie tendencies. Danica Curcic plays Mia, who quickly gets in trouble for poking around where she doesn't belong with a gun. Then there's the sheriff, the stink-eye moms and some genuinely horribly played small-town caricatures who are basically fodder for the mist.
There isn't a single character or performance that feels distinctive, with the possible exceptions of Sutherland, going solidly contemporary in contrast to her role as Aslaug from Vikings; and Posner, whose character is seemingly meant to undercut "gay best friend" stereotypes, though I'm already worried about how the show is going to do that. Nothing in The Mist is well enough introduced to inspire faith in how it will unfold.
To basically every character in The Mist, allow me to paraphrase the hero of the movie version of a different Stephen King novella: Get busy being better written, or get busy dying.
And how about that title character? Either Torpe or director Adam Bernstein has made the decision to place much of the action in the pilot in the daytime, including a high school football game that looks to have been staged and scheduled by people who have never been to a high school football game. It's a choice that also seems designed to counteract our expectations. Darabont's movie was so dark and monochromatic that it played far better in a black-and-white incarnation, but Bernstein wants to emphasize blue skies and lakes and green trees before they're wiped out by a white blob. From the outside, the mist looks as fake and fabricated as it is, but the inside-the-mist POV, which is disorienting and like seeing the world through cataracts, is much better. Presumably once the mist is done engulfing things, we won't have to worry about it moving anymore and we can get down to the business of worrying about what it's concealing, which for now is mostly cockroaches and Something Else.
Bernstein (Fargo, Better Call Saul) is a good enough director that the Mist pilot gets a couple light scares, but it lacks the brutal simplicity this brand requires. After an hour, they've killed a few people nobody will possibly care about and one animal people probably will care about. But the characters are still scattered through the town, and my desire to follow any of them to see how long it takes to bring them together in a contained environment as they ponder the unknowable outside is next to nil.
Cast: Morgan Spector, Alyssa Sutherland, Frances Conroy, Gus Birney, Luke Cosgrove, Okezie Morro, Danica Curcic
Creator: Christian Torpe, from the novella by Stephen King
Premieres: Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Spike)