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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
LOCKE & KEY (BUSTED FOX PILOT)
(written by Josh Friedman; directed by Mark Romanek; TRT: 52:02)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? It's based on Joe Hill's comic book from IDW of the same name, which I am only passingly familiar.
The plot in a nutshell: "I know a little secret, I'll whisper it to thee," says a child's voice in the opening narration, intercut with images of a foreboding mansion. "The devil had a key ring and he handed it to me. The keys are touched by magic, they are hidden in these walls. The last unlocks the blackest door and into hell we fall." And with that we meet the Locke family - dad Rendell (Mark Pellegrino), a high school guidance counselor; mom Nina (Miranda Otto); their sons: eldest Tyler (Jesse McCartney), always with headphones draped around his neck, and youngest Bode (Skylar Gaertner), proud of his repertoire of knock-knock jokes; and daughter Kinsey (Sarah Bolger) - enjoying a lazy afternoon at their summer home... that is until the arrival of Sam Lesser (Harrison Thomas), an unhinged classmate of Ty's with a gun tucked into his waistband.
Cut to three months later and the Lockes - still reeling from Rendell's death, his murderer Sam now in jail - have packed up and are making their way to Keyhouse (the aforementioned mansion), the family's ancestral home in New England, along with Rendell's brother Duncan (Nick Stahl). And while teenagers Ty and Kinsey bemoan their newfound digs, youngest Bode explores it like an adventure in the way only children can. It's through said exploration however Bode stumbles across a skeleton key, one which unlocks the impossible: after crossing the corresponding door's threshold
his body slumps to the floor dead, leaving his spirit floating above him (a la Casper the Friendly Ghost, but, you know, cooler). It's no fluke either: after returning to his body, a second attempt produces the same result, inspiring him to take his newfound paranormal status on a tour of the grounds.
His family of course doesn't take his claim seriously as they're preoccupied with their own foibles, namely Ty who's still haunted by the image of the gunshot that killed his father. And Bode's discoveries don't stop there either: an echo from a nearby well improbably speaks back to him, ultimately appearing as a young raven-haired girl (apologies as I didn't recognize the actress) trapped at the bottom asking for help. What appears to be an innocuous request for a mirror and scissors however gives way to something far more ominous: you see, the girl in question has also been talking to Sam - Rendell's murderer - and Bode inadvertently has just handed them the key to their escape...
What works: Crisply directed and thoughtfully written, "Locke & Key" definitely has the makings of something great. The idea of a weekly horror series is definitely intoxicating and the show plants a multitude of seeds that I assume would have born fruit in the ensuing weeks to come. Whether it's erased memories, imprisoned deities or familial secrets, "Locke & Key" contains a boulibase of fantastical elements - not to mention horror mainstays like having kids saying, drawing and just plain doing creepy things - but not so many that it loses sight of its core: a drama about a broken family.
With that in mind, the pilot's strongest elements actually turn out to be those without computer generated effects: from Ty (I mean Jesse McCartney, who knew right?) having a breakdown during lunch at his new school; to Kinsey recounting her father's inherent dorkiness; to Bode waving an old sword around, imagining adventures not unlike the one his family is about to take; to the heartbreaking revelation as to why Sam murdered Rendell. Broken people trying to fix themselves is one of the hallmarks of television, regardless of it containing things that go bump in the night or not.
What doesn't: It's a challenging show for sure: various developments hinge on concepts that aren't completely defined or characters without names, not to mention the most annoying of all genre tropes: people don't ask questions or behave in the way actual human beings do when confronted with the same situation. I don't know about you but if I found a doorway that caused my body to die and my invisible spirit to appear above it, I'm pretty sure that revelation would consume my existence for quite a while, not to mention cause me to physically drag my family to bear witness. Here it's treated with the same level of excitement as finding a weird looking bug under a rock (i.e. Hey Mom, guess what I found?), brushed away like a bad dream or written off as boy, kids have great imaginations don't they?
It doesn't help that the pilot can feel rudderless at times: non-linear flashbacks, a dream sequence and a full on time cut at best overcomplicate things, not to mention feel unnecessarily busy considering its bloated 52-minute run time. That being said, it's hard not to get swept up by the inherent mysteries of the show. I mean, mystical keys and the supernatural war over them? I'm in. The fact that the show never completely loses sight of that basic tenant is worth the price of admission, let alone when it's used as the backdrop for a very human story about loss and regret. Ultimately, for all its schadenfreude good and bad, what shows like this often come down to is simply: do you want more of it?
The bottom line: The answer: yes, please.