Brace yourselves, fellow horror fans — the age of the anthology series is upon us once again.
Hulu announced “Castle Rock” on Friday (Feb. 18) — an anthology program from the continued partnership of JJ Abrams and Stephen King — and it seems likely that between this new, and upcoming high-profile/premium offerings like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu is finally stepping up to compete with Netflix.
A year ago, when the James Franco-starring mini-series “11.22.63” premiered, we posed the notion that the platform should take ownership of other Stephen King material — most notably, the highly-anticipated, and very delayed, “IT” reboot. While that didn’t come to pass — though a two-part “IT” movie is set to hit theaters later this year — there is a real possibility the stories in Stephen King’s interconnected universe — from “The Dead Zone” to “Cujo” to “Needful Things” to “Doctor Sleep,” based on the teaser — could be explored like never before in the newly announced project.
“Black Mirror” — by updating and truly understanding the style, power and satire of the classics, like “The Twilight Zone,” “Outer Limits,” “Zane Grey Theatre’ and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” — prove the format still resonates in science fiction. Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story” has shown that long-form anthologies work on the small screen — or if not “work,” exactly, at least they will sell. But it’s Netflix’s insane success from genre-throwback “Stranger Things” that proved how deeply some audiences need to return to the consumer culture that formed so much of their identities — and specifically, to an era built as much in King’s image as Stephen Spielberg’s.
With “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” — Amazon’s new sci-fi anthology from Ronald D. Moore, Bryan Cranston and Michael Dinner — on the way, and the anticipated “Tales from the Crypt” reboot delayed but in progress, it seems the time is now to stake your claim. And it’s the latter project that reminds us: You can’t have “Crypt” without the “Creepshow”-inspired program that preceded it, “Tales from the Darkside.” While King wrote a couple episodes of the George Romero-created series, “Darkside” never quite captured the schlocky goodness of “Creepshow,” King’s own debut as both screenwriter and actor — although it did have an impact on many low-budget horror television and movies to follow.
While “Tommyknockers,” “The Stand” and even the mini-series remake of “The Shining” have kept King’s television legacy alive, related projects — Syfy’s “Haven” and “Under the Dome” from CBS — have shown novel ways of presenting King stories in other media. More recently, Hulu’s adaptation of his bestselling JFK/time travel-themed novel “11.22.63” that really opened our eyes to the ways King’s vast story universe could exist on the small screen — which brings us back to “Castle Rock.”
The fictional city appears in many of King’s works and it’s been previously acknowledged that much like other universes — whether it be Tarantino’s or Marvel’s — the characters and events that take place in one classic King tale often impact the characters and events in another. In fact, the “Dark Tower” series is a meta-meditation on this, an explicit top-down study of just that sort of structural gimmickry and cleverness that King’s always delighted in: In “11/22/63,” for example, Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh are overheard discussing their battle with “IT’s” Pennywise — and with the 1990 Beverly, Annette O’Toole, making a cameo to seal the deal. Pretty aggressive Easter egg, when you’re dealing with such a beloved, sprawling universe.
If the tone and tale of “11.22.63” is a sign of things to come, we have big hopes for Hulu. Though their slate of scripted originals grows every quarter, “Castle Rock” still must be the company’s biggest project to date. And with JJ Abrams and Stephen King working together to bring the characters and events from the author’s vast canvas to the small screen, it seems like a big bet, but a safe one, on hitting the same stride and acclaim as Netflix and Amazon — and even better, with a story guaranteed to disrupt, engage and frighten.