Review by C.J. Bunce
You really need to read the promotional information for AMC’s new series NOS4A2 to understand what happened in the first episode, which premiered this week. A slow-starter that meanders more than it should to introduce characters, place, and conflict, NOS4A2 has enough going for it that it should get viewers to at least return to give the second episode a try. The mood is horror, beginning with the murder of a woman and her boyfriend and the kidnapping of the woman’s son. The kidnapper is a take on Krampus, played at first by an unrecognizable Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Hotel Artemis, Heroes), who tells the kid he is taking him to a place called Christmastown, and he de-ages over the course of the episode as he drives north in his vintage Rolls Royce. The show screams Stephen King, complete with Easter egg throwbacks to King’s many stories, the overall feel of IT, and a setting reminiscent of his classic coming of age werewolf movie, Silver Bullet, complete with an old covered bridge as a central plot element.
What does this NOS4A2 have in common with the 1922 horror film Nosferatu? Nothing yet, and so far it has no vampire appearances, although Quinto’s Krampus-esque villain appears to be sucking the life force slowly from his child victims. There is a reason for the throwbacks and similarity to Stephen King’s works–it’s because the series is based on the novel NOS4A2 (NOS4R2 in the UK) written by King’s son, Joseph King who writes under the name Joe Hill (also known for the IDW Publishing comic book series Locke & Key and the book and film Horns). Unfortunately the first episode takes its time getting anywhere, and before you know it the hour has run and viewers are left with a vague introductory picture of what is happening.
What do we learn? The kidnapping takes place in Iowa. A local librarian who knew the missing boy, played by new actress Jahkara Smith, divines supernatural messages through Scrabble game tiles, which looks like it will soon connect her with an 18-year-old young woman in Massachusetts named Vic McQueen, played by 27-year-old actress Ashleigh Cummings (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). As her character’s name would indicate, she drives a motorcycle and she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. She favors her wife-beater father, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Punisher, Medium)–who encourages her to follow her dreams of being an artist–over her mom, a bit of a caricature of the disinterested parent, played by Virginia Kull (Big Little Lies, Twin Peaks).
The highlight of the first episode is Vic’s encounters with an old covered bridge near the woods. She finds herself sketching the bridge in art class, and soon learns what everyone else knows: the bridge was actually destroyed 15 years ago. So it’s really a ghost story, with the ghost helping Vic find things in the form of a bridge–all she must do is drive through it and come out the other side, and the bridge takes her where she needs to be. In the first episode it’s small potatoes: a credit card and a watch. But each new experience with the bridge takes a greater physical and mental toll on her. What will she find next? is this a twisted deconstruction of The Bridges of Madison County? Probably not, but there’s something nostalgic, familiar, and maybe even iconic about a rickety old bridge (I knew of at least three in my hometown as a kid, all three had ghost stories, and one was like the covered bridge in the series).
NOS4A2 has the potential of something like Fox’s four-season Sleepy Hollow series if the dark vibe and slow pacing continues, and the story gains some traction. The supernatural mechanism of finding lost things conjures the short-lived but well-crafted series The Lost Room.
Quinto always immerses himself in his roles and does that here, and Cummings is likeable as the series lead. Of course, the more throwbacks to Stephen King books, movies, and TV series, the better. We’re always looking for the next Haven and Grimm. Is this the series to do that? It’s obviously too soon to tell.
If you’re a fan of supernatural horror on the less gory side (so far), a fan of Stephen King or Joe Hill’s novel, looking for a something to fill the void of The Walking Dead, or you had a favorite old covered bridge in your youth, you’ll want to catch NOS4A2, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. Central on AMC.