Television Review: Locke & Key Pilot

The Locke family in front of Key HouseToday we’re doing something a little different, a review of a television show based on a book instead of an actual book.  While at Comic Con (yes, I will shut up about it eventually), Fernando and I got a chance to see the unaired television pilot for Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key.  It’s one of the reasons I read the first graphic novel, Welcome to Lovecraft, on the plane to San Diego.  If you didn’t see my review of the comic, I instantly fell in love with the concept of the series and the characters Hill and Rodriguez had created, so I was eager to see how it translated to television.

The most disappointing thing about the pilot, which was commissioned by FOX, is that it didn’t get picked up.  It’s probably never going to be released in any widely available format even though Joe Hill has stated on Twitter that he would like everyone to see it. 

So here is my review.  Forewarned: Spoilers for Welcome to Lovecraft are included.

This one hour pilot episode covers the entire 158 pages of the first Locke & Key volume, obviously cutting a lot of things out.  It starred Nick Stahl (the guy from Terminator 3) as Uncle Duncan and Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings / War of the Worlds) as the mother of the three Locke children.  For the most part, they aren’t really featured.  The subplot of the mother drinking herself into oblivion is washed over and Duncan remains a very two dimensional adult lurking in the background.  Of course both of these roles would have been expanded had the show gotten picked up, I image.

Then we have the three kids.  Jesse McCartney (he used to sing and now he acts) plays the eldest, Tyler, not as the lunk-headed athlete from the comics, but more as a loner who would prefer to be a social outcast.  Then the middle child, Kinsey, is played by Sarah Bolger (The Tudors).  In the television show, Kinsey is bland - no dreads, no piercings, nothing to make her stand out from the very beginning.  Instead they turned her into a girl with little personality and less memorability.

And finally there’s Bode.  Sweet little naive Bode on whose shoulders this entire show has to sit on (at least in the pilot).  He’s played by a new kid name Skylar Gaertner, and he’s… okay.  I’ve been spoiled by the brilliant child actors on Game of Thrones, so I found him to be incredibly underwhelming.  Often he seemed a bit bored or wooden as though he wasn’t sure what he should be doing, but I don’t think he was the reason the show didn’t get picked up. 

My best guess on why it didn’t get picked up (and what do I know? I don’t work in television) would be that it’s hard to put in a niche.  It’s a family drama, but it also has the dark faerie tale element to it.  Is it a horror show?  Is it safe for older kids to watch?  At the beginning it’s a bit hard to tell.  The pilot rides along as though it’s a family drama, bouncing back and forth between the family adjusting to life at Key House and what happened the day their father was murdered and the motivation behind it.  So for a while, it’s a drama and then things get weird.  And then they get even weirder and then there’s a creepy wet girl climbing out of a well and threatening a child.  For most normal television watching people, it would be a hard sale.  Also, it might have been a bit hard to follow the story line with all the time shifting had I not just read the comic it was based on.

Ksenia Solo: Imagine her damp and with creepy eyes and you have the girl in the well.Harrison Thomas, who played the deranged psychopath Sam Lesser, was spot on creeptastic and Ksenia Solo portrayed “Echo”* / the girl in the well as I couldn’t imagine anybody in reality could.  She was exactly the character from the comic; she looked like her, acted like her and sounded like I imagined the character would sound like in my head.  Add in the fact that Mark freaking Pellegrino (Supernatural, Lost, Being Human, every other show I watch) was hired to play Rendell, the murdered patriarch of the Locke family, and you know this was going somewhere even weirder than a little kid floating around as a ghost.  While I don’t know how much he features in the rest of the comics series, the pilot left it so that Rendell could come back, not only in Bode’s haunted dreams, but also in copious flashbacks.

Due to fitting in so much story in 42 minutes, a lot was condensed or cut out completely.  We jump straight from Sam arriving at the Locke family lake house to the move to Key House.  There’s no building of the ominous nature of Key House that the comic does through flashback memories Tyler has during his father’s funeral.  There’s no mention that the house might have chosen Bode, that he was meant to be there for some spooky reason.  Instead there’s more of a focus on people not being able to remember things.  Duncan doesn’t remember much about the house or his time there.  Echo doesn’t remember how she got in the well.  All these mentions eventually tied into the ending that would have set the series into motion.

There are some key changes**, first of them being that Uncle Duncan doesn’t currently live in Key House.  He moved away because it was creepy and he always felt it belonged more to his brother than to him.  So this place has been abandoned for who knows how long, also meaning that the girl in the well has been on her own for a while.  Bode paints his “summer vacation” story on the wall of his bedroom, not as an art project in school, so it’s huge and staring his entire family down.  Kinsey is a swimmer, not a runner, and has no coach mentor or potential friend to help her heal.

The biggest change comes during the closing moments.  The very end of the episode was a direct departure from the end of Welcome to Lovecraft.  Instead of the major twist from the comics that I will not spoil here, the show ends on a close up of a tree that has a key hole.  The camera goes through the keyhole and finds a room filled with jars, each containing a tiny person.  It’s implied that each person in the jars has had memories stolen, most likely by Rendell, and the show ends on a close up of one jar where the mother is fighting to get out.

Duh duh duuuuuuuuh!

According to Joe Hill in the panel that followed the first screening, the series would have gone into a “key of the week” format where every episode would have a new key to explore, only visiting the plot of the comics every handful of episodes.  That would lend to slightly self-contained episodes, but I can’t imagine the show existing without an overarching serialized format to hold it all together, sort of like Fringe.

But this is all speculation and my own imaginings.  The show didn’t get picked up, so we’ll never know what it could have turned into.  I liked the pilot, but I didn’t love it.  I saw the potential of the whole thing, but I also saw how it could have imploded.  Personally I think the first graphic novel at least would lend itself more to a movie than a series, so maybe that could happen someday instead.  For now, I’ll just stick to the comics.


* The girl in the well doesn’t really get a name in the book, but she says she’s Bode’s echo

** Pun not originally intended



Other reviews of the Locke & Key pilot:

Io9 - The Locke & Key pilot teases the brilliant horror series that might have been

ThinkHero - ‘Locke & Key’ Pilot Review

IGN - Comic-Con: Locke and Key TV Pilot Review