Can you say something is having a resurgence if it never really left?
I would say Stephen King is having a moment right now, but the truth is, King has been a fixture in the cultural zeitgeist for decades. The author’s books and short stories have been published nonstop since 1974, and a great deal of them have been adapted into movies and TV mini-series.
And right now, those adaptations are worthwhile viewing. “It: Chapter 2” has been in theaters since Sept. 6; “Doctor Sleep,” the sequel to "The Shining," is slated for an Oct. 30 release; and the second season of Hulu’s “Castle Rock” is set to premiere on the streaming service on Oct. 23. Like the first season, a new episode will be released each week.
Until the second season’s premiere, get your King fix with the show’s first 10-episode season.
Keep your phone handy. “Castle Rock” is stuffed with references to King’s literary universe. That’s the crux of the anthology series: to explore King’s world, expanding and weaving it together. It would take a die-hard fan to catch all of the references without needing to look something up, and honestly, it’s fun to see what you didn’t catch the first go around.
Set in Castle Rock, Maine, the show’s first season revolves around a mysterious prisoner, dubbed “The Kid,” found in an abandoned cell block of the Shawshank State Penitentiary (from King’s short story and the wildly popular film “The Shawshank Redemption”) and the death row lawyer called in to help the man. In a fun connection, “The Kid” is played by Bill Skarsgård, who stars as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in “It” and “It: Chapter Two.”
The lawyer, Henry Deaver (portrayed by André Holland), must first locate “The Kid,” who the prison doesn’t want to acknowledge. From there, the mysteries continue as Deaver unravels the truth of “The Kid’s” identity — why did the former Shawshank warden keep him prisoner and what exactly does his presence have to do with Deaver’s own traumatic childhood.
The series slowly reveals the truth of things (or does it?), blending sci-fi and supernatural themes and planting Easter eggs to other King works in every episode. Those insider surprises come in big ways, such as Sissy Spacek (“Carrie”) playing Deaver’s ailing mother, and small, like subtle references to “Cujo,” “The Shining” and “The Body,” which was made into the 1980s classic “Stand By Me.”
There is a great deal of pleasure to be gained from knowing the King references, and wondering what will be brought up next. A brief stop in Jerusalem’s Lot, of “Salem’s Lot” fame, has turned out to be a hint at what is to come in the upcoming season, where it will play a larger role. Also in season 2, Lizzy Kaplan (“Masters of Sex,” “Mean Girls) will appear as Annie Wilkes, the psychotic nurse and super fan from “Misery,” and Tim Robbins has been cast in a leading role. Robbins starred in the film adaptation of “Shawshank Redemption,” but like Spacek, he isn’t portraying his former King character.
“Castle Rock” is gripping and full of enough mysteries on its own to keep the uninitiated viewer engaged. The acting is well-done, the soundtrack appropriately atmospheric and the plot delightfully twisty. It’s also a great October show, with mystery, suspense and creepiness you want from Halloween season.
Start here: Season 1, episode 1
The series is an anthology, so technically, the first season isn’t necessary viewing to enjoy the second, but the tales of Castle Rock, Maine, from season 1 will surely make their way into season 2, and it’s always better to be in the know.
"Castle Rock" is available on Hulu, with season 2 premiering Oct. 23 with weekly releases of episodes.