Sunday, July 16, 2006

TV: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

• The King anthology premiere was so good yet so bad.

Genres: Horror, suspense, anthology
Logistics: TNT, 8 p.m. (Central) Wednesdays
Premiere verdict: Battleground: &&&&1/2, Crouch End: &

As I've been making my way through the 1980s Twilight Zone DVDs, it has occurred to me that there's absolutely nothing like that on television today, and hasn't been for quite some time, really — self-contained little postcards from the other side. Stephen King recently told Entertainment Weekly that he doesn't want to become this generation's anthologist, a Rod Serling for the 2000s, but I wish he would. The good material is there, even if the first night of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, TNT's eight-episode anthology of King short stories, demonstrates the two extremes of translating King to the small screen. I think the series would have been better served by focusing more on the stronger short stories of Night Shift and Skeleton Crew rather than later material; for my money, a considerable decline in quality is evident in Nightmares & Dreamscapes. On a scheduling note, why TNT is burning these off two a night instead of spreading new episodes over eight weeks is beyond me.

Battleground, drawn from King's first short story collection, Night Shift, is one of my absolute favorite King stories, full of imagination and vitality in a way that King's output has rarely been since the mid-90s. This adaptation, scripted by no less than Richard Matheson and starring no less than William Hurt, ranks with Storm of the Century as one of the most brilliant adaptations of a King story. In this ultimate revenge tale, a cold hit man (Hurt) offs a toy-making giant but finds things didn't end there when a mysterious package of toy soldiers shows up in a package outside his door. It's not giving away too much to say that these soldiers have a deadly and highly entertaining mission. In an hour that contains not a single word of dialog, this installment achieves thriller perfection as a cold killer finds himself doing battle with toys. It's a rare case of one of King's great fantasies coming to life with ease on the small screen.

Crouch End, on the other hand, is as empty and insulting as King adaptations come, although, in its defense, it draws from fairly weak source material. It centers on a couple (Eion Bailey, Claire Forlani) honeymooning in London who find themselves in a mysterious, mostly abandoned area known as Crouch End, where they have accepted a dinner invitation. It's a place where rifts in the time-space continuum, or whatever, cause other dimensions to spill over into Crouch End, and it translates to the screen with all the grace of an episode of America's Funniest Home Videos. Here's hoping that the rest of the anthology, with stars such as William H. Macy, Kim Delaney and Steven Weber, will be more a dream than a nightmare of this caliber.

// The stories // Battleground (from Night Shift), The Road Virus Heads North (from Everything's Eventual), Crouch End, Umney's Last Case, The End of the Whole Mess, The Fifth Quarter, Autopsy Room Four, You Know They Got a Hell of a Band

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