At WonderCon, fans gathered in the auditorium for a special screening of the pilot episode of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, based off of his book by the same name. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the show, not just because this will be the first TV series based off of Hill’s work to ACTUALLY hit TV screens (looking at you, 2011 version of Locke and Key), but also because Hill’s book is just that good.
NOS4A2 revolves around a young woman named Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), a teenage girl with a special ability in which she can unlock portals to recover lost objects. While exploring this new power, she encounters a benevolent evil known as Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto), a sort of vampire who feeds off of the youth of children after kidnapping them in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, and taking them to an otherworldly place which he calls Christmasland.
On hand to discuss NOS4A2 was a panel consisting of creator Joe Hill, executive producer/writer Jami O’Brien, and cast members Ashleigh Cummings, Zachary Quinto, Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Chris McQueen), Olafur Darri Olafsson (Bing) and Jahkara Smith (Maggie).
One thing that stood out immediately about the hour-long pilot: this series is a heavy deviation from Hill’s book. While the characters (that we know of) are mostly familiar, they all come from different places or ages. Vic is a teenager this time around instead of a struggling mother, and her son, Wayne, appears to have been completely scrapped from the show. So instead of Vic on a mission to rescue her son from Manx, what exactly her goal will be in this version is still unclear (we’ve only seen the pilot, after all), but one thing that is very much the same is Vic’s lone-wolf nature and free spirit. Cummings says taking the part was a “no brainer” for her, because of Vic’s strength and resilience as a character, which shows in every moment she’s on-screen.
While the show opens much differently from the book, both begin with the ominous introduction of Charlie Manx. In the pilot, we’re introduced to a boy named Daniel (Asher Miles Fallica), who happens upon Manx’s eerie Wraith sitting in his driveway, door open and revealing a car full of presents, all to the tune of Christmas music. When asked about the Christmas theme, Hill goes on a rant about Christmas, saying “I hate Christmas music, especially in October…it’s evil”. He’s right. “Joy to the World” will never not be scary blasting from an abandoned car in the middle of the night in August. Anyway, after a violent struggle with Daniel’s family, Daniel finds himself kidnapped by Manx and on their way to Christmasland. In these first few minutes, Quinto makes one hell of an impression as the villain, like a cross between the Cryptkeeper and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. “What Zach did as Charlie Manx is so unbelievable and scary,” says Hill. Quinto is superb as Manx and is going to tingle the spines of a lot of people. Some of the credit should go to Joel Harlow, who Quinto calls “a master of special FX makeup”. Quinto goes on to say, “I think it’s so important for an actor to express…even through layers of makeup…I never felt like I was working against it, except for maybe the teeth”. Quinto is referring to a shark’s mouth of teeth which his character bares, the only constant in his appearance, which sees him grow younger and younger the further he drives with Daniel in the backseat.
Like any great TV show though, the supporting cast has just as much of an impact as our main hero/villain, and the creators at AMC have found themselves a wonderful group. We see a couple of appearances from Bing and Maggie, hinting at their journeys to come, one which Olaffson says he loves for Bing, “even though that journey in many ways is not so positive”. For anyone who has read the book, you know Olaffson is understating the matter there. Most impressive in the supporting cast though is Bachrach, who plays a key role in this first episode. Much of the NOS4A2 pilot puts a focus on the relationship between Vic and her dad. She seems to look up to him but finds her relationship with him tested as the episode goes on. Bachrach delivers a painful performance as Chris, a part which he says he feels lucky to play, and one which I believe is going to conflict a lot of viewers, which is pretty much the name of the game with many of the characters in NOS4A2, and part of what makes it so special.
For a story that is so relentlessly grim, there is also a lot of magic and wonder in NOS4A2, elements which are typical to Joe Hill’s work. Running parallel to the terror and sadness of this pilot episode is a sense of so much beauty and fantasy to come, which we get a few glimpses of, such as Maggie reaching into a small bag to grab magical scrabble letters, a bag which her whole arm disappears into, or, of course, the mystical bridge which carries Vic from one point to another. Hill mentions that he grew up near a bridge like that and was inspired by it for the book. He describes seeing the bridge on set for the first time with awe in his voice, saying “it was like stepping into my own imagination”. Hill wasn’t on set all the time, but when he was, his presence was noticed. “Joe has been incredibly supportive of the process”, says Quinto, responding to a question on how Hill has informed the cast on their roles.
One fun moment in the pilot is when we see a map, with references to both It and Locke and Key. Like his father, Hill enjoys littering Easter eggs like this throughout his work, but he assures the audience that NOS4A2 does not share a universe with his nor King’s work. When asked whether there will be a shared universe, Hill responds “I think shared universe sounds better than a joke,” clarifying that he spent years on NOS4A2, and included references like that to entertain himself because he was “bored”. That being said, there is a lot of mystery to the show with it already being so different from the book. O’Brien implies that there’s a lot we don’t yet know about, saying there are quite a few other characters with powers, good and bad and that it will take a few seasons to get through the book, though says the story is so rich, she could see the show going for 30 seasons if they really wanted.
Whether it’s three seasons or thirty, NOS4A2 won’t get there without the audience’s help. Even though there have been some changes, NOS4A2 remains true to the tone of Hill’s fantastic novel, and if the pilot is any indication, is going to be an excellent show. Smith feels the same, imploring to fans as the panel wraps up, “you all better watch this damn show”. Damn right, Jahkara. I’ll be there ready to go on a trip to Christmasland. Won’t you come along for the ride? NOS4A2 premieres on AMC on June 2nd.