Jun 23, 2017

Channel Surfing: The Mist - "Pilot'

Scene from The Mist
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
There are few authors as prolific as Stephen King, and even fewer whose work is readily adapted to TV and film. Just in the next three months, there will movie versions of The Dark Tower and IT along with a handful of new books to adapt from. Still, the summer begins with Spike's new series The Mist. Based on King's novella, it follows the journey of a town that is randomly attacked by a mysterious mist. Anyone who steps into it is likely to die. Nobody knows what causes it, which provides the biggest fear of all. In the film version directed by Frank Darabont, it took place predominantly inside of a single location, capturing the fear of post-9/11 hysteria. While the series shares source material, it does seem to be approaching things a little different. 
The first episode begins with the mist falling over the town. People are trying to escape for shelter, warning of an apocalyptic fog that is coming. It's the type of establishment that manages to establish the mystery before things get going. What's more ingenious is the show's ability to expand upon the characters who will be trapped in buildings presumably for the next nine episodes. They each live very different lives, and it's tough to tell how all of them intersect. Still,  they all feel organic and real in ways that escape Darabont's sometimes caricature performance. The question in part is why we should care about them, and it's quickly answered with a hefty shoulder shrug. The Mist's premiere feels like set-up, creating the tension necessary to make everything that follows make sense.
Speaking as King adaptations are a dime a dozen, there's a lot to ask about what makes this take special. Spike isn't necessarily a channel known for exceptional original series. However, it does seem like a new developing trope for King is that third-tier channels use his work to boost their audience. The same could be said for last year's excellent 11.22.63 on Hulu. It's still too early to tell if this show will be as great. However, it does seem to have the necessary elements to at least be a strong series. The fog lingers over every shot, but doesn't consume details in off-putting ways. The drama builds patiently, allowing a sense of thought into every decision. The mysteries are already starting to be put into play, and they're all ones that work as decent summer entertainment. Even if The Mist somehow ends up short, it at least looks the part of a spooky and fun show that will explore a community put into an unfortunate circumstance.
If nothing else, it already feels like a more satisfying version of the novella in large part because there's a better sense of character. Everyone has dabbled in their own personal plots, which are expertly dabbled throughout the first half of the episode. Almost everyone has a memorable introduction, and thus makes the moments when things get jumbled up more interesting. There's no knowledge of what lies in the fog, but it's already a horrifying beast that threatens anyone who tests its limits. Even with a lower budget, the effects work in provocative ways, leaving one to wonder how the mist will influence the psychological character of these town folk. In a year where King's work is going to run rampant, it's nice to have this show around to reflect a different and so far fun take on a story that not too many know well.

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