Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
When the pilot for The Dead Zone television series was aired over a decade ago, I remember watching some of it and not being overly impressed. Of course, I’d seen the movie with Christopher Walken about twenty times, and it was difficult for me to imagine anyone else playing role of Johnny Smith. Also, there was the fact that Anthony Michael Hall was doing the lead role, and you’ll understand why I threw my hands up in the air in frustration, lamenting to myself on how television screws up everything it touches by Stephen King. I mean I still see Anthony Michael Hall as the young, dorky teenager in The Breakfast Club.
Well, shame on me.
I purchased the DVD set of Season One of The Dead Zone, wanting to give the show another chance. Though I still had some problems with the changes that had been made from the novel (for example, when Johnny wakes up from his coma, he discovers that Sarah is married to Sheriff Bannerman and that his mother is already dead and had remarried while he was in a comma), I still found myself enjoying it. It certainly took me a while to stop seeing Christopher Walken as Johnny and to accept Anthony Michael Hall in the role, but the important thing is I did.
Though this isn’t evident in the description of the first season’s boxed set, the TV pilot movie is included in this season as the first two episodes.
Now with regards to the other eleven episodes, some of them work better than others, but all of the shows are rather good.
There’s one episode where a down-on-his-luck electrician decides to rob the local bank. Sarah’s cashing a check in the bank when the robbery goes down. Johnny has a vision in which he sees everyone in the bank dying when the police try to take out the robber. He decides to enter the bank and to see if he can change the outcome. What made this particular episode so good was Stephen Miller, who plays the electrician. He gives his character heart and soul, and before the show is over, you not only understand exactly what the man is going through, you also hope he won’t be killed.
In another episode an elderly man (Arty) sees a young woman in New York City who looks just like his long-lost fiancé (Abby), whom he never saw again after World War II. The man begs Johnny to check it out, and in the visions that Johnny has, he travels back to the beginning of the war and meets the woman that Arty was so much in love with. Elizabeth Ann Bennett plays Abby, and once you see her, you clearly understand why Arty loved her so much. She’s the type of woman that any man would fall in love with. I guess you could say she stole my heart, too.
Then, there’s an episode where Johnny travels to what I can only describe as a parallel universe and sees what it would’ve been like if he’d never been in the car accident and had married Sarah. It’s almost heartbreaking because Johnny doesn’t know which life is the real one.
There is, however, one episode I couldn’t quite buy into. In it, Johnny and his friend, Bruce, stop in a small town to get something to eat. A murder has just taken place the night before and a young girl is still missing. There are satanic overtones to the murder. When Johnny offers to help the police solve the case, the town’s people begin think that he’s the killer because of his psychic ability and want to burn him at the stake. I had trouble with the premise of a town of supposedly rational people being manipulated into murdering someone by a few crazy individuals. Of course, I don’t know. Maybe a lot of people are really that stupid.
I will say that the final episode, which introduces Greg Stillson to the audience, accomplishes what it was meant to do. It hooks you and then makes you want to immediately watch the second season.
All in all, the majority of the episodes in season one are pretty damn good. There’s humor, suspense, and a lot of heart that makes you care about the individual characters. The regulars who support Anthony Michael Hall all do an excellent job in their roles. I’ve grown to like Nicole DeBoer, who plays Sarah. I kept seeing Brooke Adams in the role from the original movie for a while. Chris Bruno does a good job of playing Sheriff Bannerman, who’s a person caught between the woman he loves and the man she still loves, while growing to depend on Johnny for his help in solving many of the cases that pop up. John L. Adams, who plays Johnny’s physical therapist and close friend, is also his sounding board and the origin for a lot of the humor that takes place in the series. Last, but not least, is Kirsten Dalton, who plays the sultry redheaded newspaper reporter that’s a threat to Sarah and her relationship with Johnny.
All the episodes have commentaries, and at the end of each disc, there’s a behind-the-scenes featurette that deals with such things as the making of the show, its guest stars, and its visual effects and music. If you’re a Stephen King fan and haven’t yet watched this television series, then you owe it to yourself to either buy, or rent, the first season and to check it out for yourself. I think you’ll find yourself hooked like I did.