I was delighted to find that hobgoblins had left a copy of the pilot script for Fox's Locke & Key series under my pillow. By hobgoblins, I mean mysterious sources, and by desk I mean my G-mail inbox. But by pilot script for Locke & Key, I do very much mean that.
If you'd rather not be spoiled by the details, I'll deliver the verdict up front. It's great. It's truly an echo of Joe Hill's comic scripts for the original IDW mini (Welcome to Lovecraft), but it also features some cool additions. The pilot seems to benefit from the fact that Hill has a three-act structure in place for the comic (right now, readers are plowing through Act Two) and knows how the major conflicts will be resolved. That said, I'm sort of astonished at how much of the "Welcome to Lovecraft" arc is included in this pilot.
Let's break it down. 67 pages by show-runner Josh Friedman, dated October 18th, 2010. The script is titled "Ghost Key." A bit long for an hour-long, so it'll be interesting to see how it's cut, or if it will garner some kind of limited commercial interruption broadcast or extended premiere slot.
The story. We open on that faithful day when everything went so horribly wrong for the Locke family. The day Sam Lesser came into their lives, a gun tucked by the small of his back. The day Rendell Locke–husband of Nina, father to Tyler (16), Kinsey (15) and Bode (6)–was murdered. But this is all the then, a tragedy witnessed in flashbacks parceled throughout the episode. Things only start getting hairy in the opening teaser.
And then we're treated to the title sequence, which looks something like this:
Following the title sequence, we rejoin the Locke family (sans Dad) as they travel to their new home in Lovecraft, MA. Everyone's a little bit punchy after a long trip, but Bode drops an "Arkham Asylum" reference, and in all his enthusiasm, endears himself to us instantly. This is an ensemble series with meaty roles for the entire Locke family, but a lot of the success of this show is pinned to young Bode. This is the Calvin to the supernatural elements' Hobbes, and if we don't like this kid, his adventures could grate to the point of canceling the show's subscription from your DVR. He's written wonderfully though, so there's just as much opportunity for this kid becoming a breakout star. As for everyone else, they read precisely like the kids from the book. That is to say intelligent and relatable without coming across as Juno-esque precocious. They speak candidly to each other, operate like the deeply wounded family they've become, but don't slip into the angst-ridden archetypes that have become all too familiar in primetime. The best compliment I could probably bestow upon Friedman, and by extension, to Hill, is that they read like families do on Showtime dramas. Sometimes they get a long. Sometimes they don't. And when they fight, it makes sense. Not because teens are supposed to be miserable.
Right, so they got the dynamics. How about the spooky? Oh, it's spooky alright. If you're not familiar with the series, the pitch can be pretty simple. They live in an old house with a lot of room and a lot of secrets. And there are keys. Each key offers a bit of magic. The eponymous Ghost Key for example. Turning that key in the proper lock will allow you to leave your mortal body at the door and take an astral projection tour of the grounds. Come back, and you can meet up with your body later. No penalties. No blood shed. And no obnoxious old caretakers to ruin it all with exposition and speeches. Bode discovers the key in the first act and figures it all out for himself. All show, very little tell. And it works because we see it all through the eyes of a little kid who takes everything at face value. The other Lockes will confront all this weirdness later, but as an introduction for viewers, it's perfect.
As I mentioned, I'm surprised that the big confrontation from the end of "Welcome to Lovecraft" actually takes place in this pilot. I would've expected the writers to draw that out until the end of their first 12 episode season. But it's here, and I think it works just fine. Especially because this involves Sam Lesser, whose first act of violence against the Lockes serves as the backbone of this story. We get to see these two conflicts in parallel, and structurally, that's pretty cool.
We already know Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings) and Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) are set to play Nina and Kinsey Locke respectively. And it looks like Nick Stahl (Sin City, Carnivale) will appear as Rendell's brother Duncan Locke. I imagined these actors performing as I read through the script, and it really gels. Anxious to see Otto's portrayal of Nina in particular. This is a damaged woman, but hardly a victim. And we get to see a little of that teased in this jam-packed pilot:
The spooky supernatural stuff sounds pretty impressive, including a lot of play with the Ghost Key and that creepy scene in the well introducing the villainous Dodge. But as cool as all that is, the magic takes a backseat to the real horrors of murder and a family's attempts to regain their footing after a grisly loss. That might be the most impressive aspect of this whole adaptation. With all that ghost story stuff in the background, this doesn't feel like Goosebumps. But it also doesn't feel melodramatic either. Friedman found the right balance.
I'm really excited to see the final product. By all accounts, they're filming right around now in an estate on Hartwood Acres in Pittsburgh. Here's what it looks like.
We'll keep you posted on the developments.