4 out of 5
Created by: Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason
This guy: not a Stephen King fan. I can’t even claim to have vetted the more well-known Kingly moving-picture properties, with barely a Carrie and Shining under my belt. J.J. Abrams name as producer of Castle Rock – a show set in the titular Maine town which attempts to wind a bunch of King lore together and around Henry Deaver (André Holland), returning thereabouts to investigate the strange incarceration of ‘The Kid’ (Bill Skarsgård) – holds no particular sway either, for good or evil, as I respect his TV prowess but also easily roll my eyes at his Lost-y indulgences.
Regarding the latter, spoiler-free reviews may have given you the ol’ Abrams deja vu with mentions of piled up mysteries and a slow, let’s-not-resolve-anything pace, and as to the former, discussions on how where why this fits in to any given Stephen King framework may suggest prior knowledge is a necessity.
And yet, neither of things have bothered me one bit. It helps to have such a fantastic cast leading us through this, with Holland wonderful at portraying relatable indignance, Scott Glen incomparable as the tough but caring curmudgeonly ex-sheriff, Skarsgård’s blank stare and/or smile the perfect blend of innocence and quiet creep, Sissy Spacek as Henry’s adoptive mother tackling a challenging representation of Alzheimer’s, and childhood friend / probable psychic Melanie Lynskey. Just to solidify that Castle Rock has the best TV actresses around, they also cast Allison Tolman as Lynskey’s sister, so nyah nyah. But, yes, casting cannot overcome a lacking script, and not knowing co-creator Dustin Thomason’s other projects, I will lean on my appreciation of other co-creator Sam Shaw’s Manhattan, which kept me interested and invested in a historical premise I’d otherwise have had no interest in; while not fully factual, the show flirted with enough history to feel informative, then blended it with a tone of mystery and fleshed out, realistically imperfect characters. I admittedly wasn’t always clear on the endgame, but I was so intrigued week to week it didn’t matter. That’s the carryover: Castle Rock does pile up a lot of Whats? around Deaver, and why The Kid was apparently housed in a hidden jail cell ‘neath Shawshank prison for years. There’s a house that inspires murders, Lynskey’s psychic thing, a preacher in the woods who hears spirits. And yet, we’re not whisked away underneath tumultuous expectations of resolutions, as there’s a strong character drama at the core: Henry’s rocky past that had him leave town; dealing with his mother’s illness; his battle with Glen – having long ago taken up with Henry’s mother – over who should care for her.
Yes, without this anchor, the show would feel strange for strange’s sake, and the pace can be rather languid, taking whole episodes for vignettes that are taking place simultaneously, which makes it hard to track the progress of time, overall, as well as making it unclear if certain events are really impacting anything, or are just included to namecheck a King story. With this anchor, that sensation doesn’t overwhelm; we drift in the same way Henry does, poking at The Kid case with uncertainty as to how to handle it.
And pleasingly, I would say that enough answers do arrive by season’s end to make it satisfying on its own… though I’ll be damned if I’m not tuning in for season 2 to find out more.