With Westworld rounding a creative corner and turning into the series it was always meant to be, producer J.J. Abrams has a new mystery box narrative to set up. This time, it will be on Hulu and in partnership with Stephen King, suddenly one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood thanks to Stranger Things and It. We still don’t know much about this shower other than its title (Castle Rock), cast list (André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Sissy Spacek, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy, Scott Glenn), and very, very basic premise (a mystery/horror narrative set in a kind of shared cinematic universe version of Castle Rock, Maine, the setting of and often adjacent to quite a few King stories). Hulu debuted a new teaser trailer during its upfront presentation in New York City this morning:
This follows last fall’s similarly cryptic teaser:
That’s a lot more of Shawshank State Prison than I was expecting. The teaser confirmed the connection and the new trailer doubles down on it, even including a quick scan of a wall inside the prison revealing a picture of the prior warden played by Bob Gunton in Shawshank Redemption.
Moreover, just to make things more confusing, It‘s Bill Skarsgård is in this but he’s not playing Pennywise.
So, what is going on here?
Standard Abrams mystery box stuff. The show won’t make total sense until we finally get to see it, and even then it will probably take a couple of episodes for the mysteries to unfurl. However, it seems obvious that they’ve taken one of the quirks of Stephen King’s stories – that so many of them take place in Maine – and zeroed in on a location and asked, essentially, “What if that place is haunted or has some super dark and super secret history?”
My expectation is this will be a series about a town full of secrets (ala Twin Peaks or Leftovers: Season 2) and probably an entire tortured past only fully known by a select few if any. All of the King connections, such as Shawshank and any other locales or characters that might hop by, will initially feel like a bonus, but they’ll do enough heavy lifting to ensure this isn’t just Easter Egg: The TV Series.
We’ve been burned very recently by King TV adaptations. Spike’s The Mist, now on Netflix, meandered far too long and took rather curious approaches to hot-button topics like rape and sexual abuse. It was canceled after one season. Hulu’s own 11.22.63 resolved in such a magic-reset-button way that the entire series felt like a waste of time.
Except, of course, this isn’t a strict Stephen King adaptation. We don’t what it is, really. It’s something new, more akin to the Goosebumps movie idea of throwing a famous author’s biggest works into the same universe and seeing what happens. We’ve seen Hollywood try and usually fail to bring King’s work to film and TV. It’s high time somewhat tried something a little different. That it comes with Abrams attached as producer means a purposefully opaque marketing and probably even storytelling strategy, but the person who created the show is someone named Sam Shaw, a Masters of Sex writer who previously created WGN’s short-lived Manhattan. I look forward to seeing what tricks he has up his sleeve. What about you?
Castle Rock premiere on Hulu on July 25.