Hulu Streaming: Castle Rock S01 E01 (2018) - Reviewed

It’s hard to think of a modern author who can be deemed as popular and prolific as Stephen King. Since Carrie was published in 1974, King has never stopped terrifying his Constant Readers, and inserting evil into idyllic, homey, familiar towns has always been one of his greatest strengths. That being said, it’s almost surprising that a show like Hulu’s new Castle Rock series didn’t happen earlier. One of the greatest joys for this stan has always been running into old friends in new stories set in Sai King’s familiar haunts. And that’s the basic idea here; taking characters from the many novels King set in Castle Rock, and giving them a new tale to tell. Of course, any time beloved characters are taken on by fresh creators, there’s a risk. After witnessing countless writers and directors try, and fail, to accurately adapt a favorite novel, nearly every bit of King-on-the-screen excitement is tempered by an “oh, jeez, please don’t screw this one up” feeling. Castle Rock has a leg up here; it’s not a straight adaptation of a prior work. After watching the first episode, it’s safe to say that it works in its favor and this particular imagining of Stephen King’s characters could possibly be one of the greatest to grace the screen.

There is a lot packed into the first hour, but it never feels over-whelming or rushed. Writers Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason have, at first glance, created a complex, creepy, engaging mystery that will clearly offer a lot to unpack over the next nine episodes. If the remainder of the series is as well written and paced as the first episode, and the writers can offer a payoff worthy of its start, then this will be one hell of a ride. While there weren’t a ton of scares in the first hour, a gentle unease settled in early on and got much less gentle as the episode progressed. The atmosphere and sets were spot on, immersing the viewer in the little town plagued with darkness. Much like the depiction of Derry in Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of King’s It, there’s no superficial reason the quaint little town of Castle Rock should be anything other than warm and charming, and yet, instead of warmth, it exudes malevolence.

It would be a travesty to not mention the stellar cast and their fantastic performances, across the board. There is not a single note missed by any of the actors, in any scene. Melanie Lynskey and Bill Skarsgard stand out; Lynskey, playing against type, nails an extremely unsettling, eyebrow raising scene, and Skarsgard has a presence that allows him to steal scenes without saying a word. Scott Glenn has perhaps the toughest route ahead, playing the most well-known King character in the show, the now-retired Sheriff Alan Pangborn. Glenn’s first shot at the sheriff was solid, though a bit different and more rough than previous incarnations.

All told, the scene is set for Castle Rock to become not only a great Stephen King TV show, but just a great show in general. There is so much potential and so many threads to unravel, viewers will be begging for the next episode, and if that’s not great TV, then what is?

-Josie Stec