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‘Mr. Mercedes’ is Frightfully Well-Done Stephen King
August 9, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Audience TV’s new detective thriller Mr. Mercedes may be most notable for how it gets very disturbing very quickly.

Based on a Stephen King novel, put together for television by David E. Kelley and premiering Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, Mr. Mercedes is not for casual viewing.

If you make it through the extended opening scene, whose specific dramatic impact and punch we won’t spoil here, you’re probably good for the whole 10-episode first season. If you don’t, you may not be alone.

In the larger picture, the premise of Mr. Mercedes sounds rather familiar. Psychotic mass killer Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway, right) launches a belated cat-and-mouse game with Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson), the cop who vowed to catch Brady after his first killing spree and failed to do so.

By all outward appearances, Brady’s taunting – much of it through crude cyber-jabs – constitutes little more than piling on.

It’s two years later, and Hodges has retired from the force. With the mass killing unsolved, he has sunk into the life of a grouchy old man who yells at neighborhood kids for playing street hockey around his house while slowly eating and drinking himself to death in front of his TV set.

Brady’s life, in truth, isn’t much happier than that. But like all mass murderers, blood lust gives him a reason to get up in the morning. Just around the time, his already depressed hometown is starting to recover from his first spree, he’s revving up for round two.

Tormenting Hodges at first looks to be an incidental, almost random add-on, confirming how clever and invincible Brady has become. But rather than driving Hodges deeper into the bottle and the potato chips, Brady’s cyber-taunting wakes Hodges up.

The former cop has stayed in touch with his old partner, Detective Peter Dixon (Scott Lawrence), and that connection helps reel him back into the case.

Only now, of course, Hodges (left) isn’t a cop anymore. So whatever he wants to do, he has to do it without official resources or sanction.

Game on.

Meanwhile, both Brady and Hodges have their lives complicated by strange women who immediately get and keep our attention.

In Brady’s case, it’s his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch). While she’s not homicidal, she’s totally creepy, as in Bates Motel mother creepy, and she clearly helped make Brady into who he is today.

Hodges is bewildered by his neighbor Ida Silver (Holland Taylor, below), who in a noir novel of the ‘30s might have been called a pushy broad.

She’s a great character, droll in delivery and a welcome bit of light-hearted relief in a dark story.

Dark it is, too, from the opening moments and the way it treats the first batch of characters we get to know.

It’s not exactly what TV audiences might expect, though it probably won’t startle readers of King’s work.

Gleeson does a first-rate job with a character we’ve seen before, the tormented cop who plunges into a battle where he’s seemingly outflanked and outgunned.

Treadaway is suitably troubling as a kid who represses such waves of rage and frustration that we don’t doubt it could explode somewhere.

While the causes of his rage play as clichés, they don't make him less menacing, though it makes the larger story less than subtle.

It’s still a solid campfire yarn.

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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is now available in paperback for under $15. Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. Interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer are high points... Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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