2017 was supposed to be the year that the Stephen Kingdom reigned supreme. From The Mist and Gerald's Game to IT and The Dark Tower, fans of Stephen King were floating higher than Pennywise's balloons at the prospect of seeing these adaptations hit our screens. Unfortunately, it now seems as though some of these balloons may deflate with a whimper rather than explode with a bang.
We're yet to see Gerald play his games or The Losers Club finally win something, but poor reviews for The Dark Tower and a divisive response to The Mist's new reinterpretation has left fans searching for guns to sling at those responsible. These adaptations could have redeemed the likes of Dreamcatcher and The Mangler, but instead, fans have still been left wanting... until now.
Like an ice cream that never melts, the Mr Mercedes TV show is finally here and it's a joy to behold, restoring our faith in the future of Stephen King's work onscreen. Big Little Lies screenwriter David E. Kelley continues his winning streak with this faithful yet chilling adaptation of King's first detective novel, following Brendan Gleeson's retired cop on the hunt for a serial killer played by Harry Treadaway. It's dark, it's violent, and it's controversial AF, but these aren't the only reasons why Mr Mercedes has left us with a big old smiley face.
Are You Ready For The Ride?
In light of disturbing parallels to real-world tragedies, fans wondered whether the TV adaptation of Mr Mercedes would shy away from the massacre that takes place in the book's opening chapter. Unfortunately for those with a nervous disposition, it becomes immediately clear upon watching that Mr Mercedes won't shy away from the controversy of the book, regardless of how close to home it may feel for some.
In the show's first scene, anyone familiar with the source material will undoubtedly feel unease at the sight of job-seekers lining up for work, knowing that a masked clown is waiting to mow them down nearby. After introducing these victims as three-dimensional people, director Jack Bender then drives full-throttle into the horror of the story, breaking expectations faster than the victim's bones break under the wheels of the Mercedes in question. This is about as far from your typical episode of CSI as it gets.
As if that wasn't harrowing enough, viewers don't have long to recover from the violent death of a young mother and her baby before Mr Mercedes continues to shock us through the incest that Brady endures back home. Few shows would dive into such material so resolutely, but luckily, the cast of Mr Mercedes commit to their roles admirably, no matter how depraved some of them might be.
Check out how Mr Mercedes links with the rest of Stephen King's books in our video below:
Controversy without insight will always end up being just a cheap grab for headlines, but fortunately, the shock value of Mr Mercedes has purpose, providing genuine psychological insight. Much like The Fall, Mr Mercedes is concerned first and foremost by the intent behind these attacks. From what we've seen so far, Mr Mercedes capably explores what would drive a man to commit such heinous crimes and how this affects those who are tasked with bringing him to justice. The show also does an admirable job at tackling topical concerns such as homophobia, online trolling and blue-collar resentment.
Much like Detective Hodges in his transition out of retirement, Mr Mercedes bravely does exactly what needs to be done, adapting the original story as faithfully as possible with a huge pay-off. Of course, some changes are necessary in the leap from page to screen; most notably, Mr Mercedes adds an entirely new character, played by Holland Taylor. However, Mr Mercedes is arguably the most faithful adaptation of Stephen King seen in some time — and it's no coincidence that it's also one of the best.
Pennywise and the creatures in the mist may haunt our nightmares, but the scariest Stephen King characters of all are those who aren't supernatural, and willingly plunge themselves into darkness. In the case of Mr Mercedes, the show's success lives or dies by the central performance from Harry Treadaway, whose disturbing character could have descended into caricature in less capable hands.
Fortunately, both Treadaway and the showrunners who worked on Mr Mercedes adhere closely to the original text. During an interview with Yahoo, Treadaway described the book as his bible, explaining how King had laid out most of the inspiration needed right there on the page:
"It was all there. Normally, you have to find the roots in the script and you dig in to find the history and backstory and grow the character from there. Here we could dig deeper with the novel and then build on more with the script. I constantly found myself going back to find the part of the book scenes and characters were based on or coming from."
Insightful performances from the likes of Treadaway and Gleeson are supported by assured pacing that ensures audiences are given equal opportunity to learn more about the two leads without overwhelming us with darkness. Indeed, Gleeson's cynical outlook on life and the conflict this generates with the supporting cast offer some much needed respite at times, even though Hodges and Hartsfield are arguably two sides of the same coin.
Unlike other Stephen King adaptations that try to condense the original material too much or reimagine it completely, Mr Mercedes expertly borrows from the text, adding or removing elements only when necessary. As Stephen King himself told Variety:
"It’s tough to take a book that is fully textured and has all the wheels turning and do it in two hours and 10 minutes. But as a TV show you have 10 hours, there’s always the possibility of doing something like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is extraordinary."
Sure, #MrMercedes isn't perfect. Early on, the show dawdles somewhat, sometimes taking too long to focus on each character beat and some of the emotion intrinsic to the book is lost in translation. Yet in spite of that, few shows are as adept at turning the serial killer drama on its head, and even fewer adaptations dive into the DNA of what makes #StephenKing tick with such virtuoso. Come rain or shine, join us under the blue umbrella for what could quite possibly be the best Stephen King adaptation of 2017. Before the summer is over, you may just find yourselves asking the question, "Pennywho?"
Which Stephen King adaptation released in 2017 is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!