Hulu takes one of Stephen King’s most famous fictional locations and weaves a number of supernatural narratives together based on his works.
Henry Deaver (André Holland), a criminal defense attorney who once vanished for several days as a child with no memory of what happened, is called back to his hometown of Castle Rock. It turns out that a young man, nicknamed “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgård), has been found in a closed-off portion of Shawshank Prison. He was apparently kept in a cage by the former warden, Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), for 27 years without aging. Henry, along with psychic Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), tries to figure out who, or what, The Kid really is and how it ties in with Henry’s disappearance and the death of his father.
Nurse Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) and her daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher), break down in Castle Rock. They end up embroiled in a fight between mob boss “Pop” Merrill (Tim Robbins), his nephew Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks), and Pop’s adopted son Abdi Omar (Barkhad Abdi) over the territory of Castle Rock and nearby Salem’s Lot. Things become more complicated when Annie accidentally starts a chain of events which results in a Satanic Cult reviving itself and potentially ending the world.
I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so I was pretty excited when this show was first announced. However, I watched the first episode and it just didn’t grab me, so I kind of forgot about it. A friend of mine, who is also a fan of Stephen King, told me that I needed to give it another shot and I’m so glad she did.
It’s still true that the first season is definitely slower. It focuses more on the “multiverse” aspect of King’s writing and only has vague allusions to his work (Shawshank Prison, Jack Torrance’s niece (Jane Levy), and Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn)) and it tells a number of intertwined stories relating to the town itself more than the central narrative. That actually works out to its benefit because the central narrative is only moderately interesting, even though the performances are solid. It definitely feels like the kind of universe that Stephen King characters would populate, where random strangeness abounds.
The second season, in my opinion, is a massive step-up. The main character is Annie Wilks, the psychotic nurse made famous in the book Misery, and Lizzy Caplan does a great job playing her. She’s not exactly the character played by Kathy Bates that won an Academy Award, but it genuinely feels like she’s the kind of person that will, one day, become that character. It becomes even better when she has to deal with the fact that, even though she is insane, she is actually dealing with the supernatural rather than delusions. The secondary plots involving Pop Merrill are emotionally complex, made all the better by Tim Robbins’s performance. Having him be a gangster at the end of his life, dealing with all of his regrets, gave Robbins a lot to work with and he pulled it off beautifully. The plot, while still containing numerous threads, is much more cohesive and therefore powerful, tying everything in at the end.
The one thing that the first season does have over the second is that it has more creative visual storytelling, particularly “The Queen” which is told from the perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient. That’s not to say that there aren’t well-crafted episodes in the second season, but nothing quite at that level.
Another thing I can appreciate is that, like King’s work, there’s not a particular rule about what can and can’t be real in this universe. Sometimes people are from different dimensions. Sometimes you can walk through time. Sometimes you can resurrect the dead by accident. If the next season included aliens fighting zombies, it wouldn’t be inconsistent with the universe. It helps that there’s a lot of care put in to represent all of the elements of Castle Rock that King had written into his stories. It does a great job of capturing the feel of many of King’s stories.
Overall, I enjoyed this show. If, like me, you didn’t enjoy the first season too much, give the second season a try.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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