NYCC 2011: Some Thoughts on the ‘Locke & Key’ Pilot Screening

Sense memory dictates that in the years to come, I will unjustly associate New York Comic-Con’s Locke & Key pilot screening with the pungent scent of cat urine. But that has nothing to do with the quality of the feature presentation and much more to do with (un)conventional hygiene in group gatherings or an as-yet-to-be-diagnosed brain tumor and its methodical usurpation of my sensory receptors. In either case, I am glad to have seen the production before the onset of more dire symptoms. Given that Fox opted to pass on the series–reportedly citing daunting production costs–leaning against the back wall to watch the unaired pilot on Friday at noon may well have been my one and only opportunity. To that end, I’d like to thank our own Ali Colluccio for accompanying me to the screening and yanking me by the arm when I saw the long line and issued a sigh so dramatic I’ll have to write a check to the Joan Crawford estate.

So how was it?

You may recall from my review of the original script that the pilot episode actually covers the first full arc of the series. That’s a lot of content for an hour of television, and while it never felt as if much was cut from the original story, the finished episode hardly registers as rushed. In fact, the pacing was more cinematic than a typical television drama. There were definite act breaks to signal pauses for commercials, but other than that the tempo was relaxed, allowing for a moody, mournful tone. There are laughs throughout, but this is largely the story of a family in crisis. A father has been brutally and senselessly slain, and his wife and children are left to pick up the pieces while transitioning to a new home. The Pittsburgh estate used for the stately Key House and its grounds makes for an impressive setting, and I wonder whether continued use of the property presented the kind of rental fees Fox balked at when passing on the project. Imagine a television series with the scope and grandeur of a film like The Others, if not Kubrick’s The Shining and you’ve only barely overshot the mark.

In terms of visual effects, the major spectacle involves the various out-of-body experiences made possible by the Ghost Key. It’s not multiplex quality, but it more than does the trick for television. I’m certainly bummed though that we’ll never see the team play around with the Head Key or any of the other transformations and optical illusions necessitated by later plot points.

Overall, performances were quite solid, but some actors responded more soundly to the material than others. Nick Stahl is perhaps the biggest name involved, but fans of the comic know his role is secondary to the rest of the ensemble. That said, I’m a great admirer of his, and I was pleased to see the same underplayed performance he offered in Carnivale. He brings dignity and grace to the young uncle, and I would love to have seen what I’m sure would have been a more active role in the revised narrative. Miranda Otto also did a lovely service to the complex role of the Locke family matriarch, exhausted but sharp and resilient in the wake of tragedy. I’ve heard mixed reports on Jesse McCartney’s portrayal of Tyler Locke, but I thought he was another high point. Especially in the events of this pilot, Tyler is beset by guilt and angst over his role in the death of his father, but McCartney is charming enough to sidestep the emo doldrums. I’d been very excited about Tudors alum Sarah Bolger’s casting as Kinsey (though I’ve always imagined United States of Tara and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World actress Brie Larson in the role), but I’m afraid her take was a tinge melodramatic for the cynical character. There’s a line in there where she calls Ty “such a…a…quahog” referencing a maligned local delicacy. It’s not the best line anyway, but the delivery is a bellyflop. Harrison Thomas is likely the weakest link though, not quite handling the psychosis of troubled teen murderer Sam Lesser. This is a Kyle Gallner role if there ever was one, but the Veronica Mars actor known for playing creepy teen deviants is getting a little long in the tooth for high school roles. Thomas plays it disturbingly enough, but he just doesn’t have the experience to comes across as truly sinister.

The highlight though is young Skylar Gaertner as wide-eyed Bode, and his interaction with the creepy Dodge played by Ksenia Solo. When Dodge finally emerges from the well and grabs Bode, Ali gasped and began punching my arm in anxiety. Because less than an hour into this tale, we as an audience love this kid and fear for his safety. I don’t know how much involvement Solo would’ve had beyond the pilot–Dodge spends much of the comic series as a teen boy–but she was perfectly haunting in her role here. Put Bode and Dodge together in that well house, and you’ve got some chilling, Big Bad Wolf moments.

In talking with others about the pilot, it seems I’m a little more forgiving of the jam-packed script than most. But I think most agree with the notion that, given time to find its legs, Locke & Key could’ve become event television. The cast is likable and the concept is spooky and inventive. It has huge potential as a serial, with great opportunities to both embrace the source material and depart from it. I’m still upset it never made it to the air, but mostly I’m all the more eager for the next issue of Clockworks, the latest story line in my favorite comic currently being published. This is a special book and if it doesn’t receive full adaptation treatment, I’m still mightily glad that I get to continue reading and sharing Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s terrific story with readers in-the-know.



  1. Producers should learn a lesson from this, and maybe put Fox last on the list of networks to shop a new show to. Maybe they should have started with AMC or Showtime on this one.

  2. Personally I loved the screening. The only negatives I can think of was that the cast didn’t look as much like the comic as I would like (the daughter in particular looked a bit older then I think she should have).

    Really amazing pilot though and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.

  3. Were there any talk about the public see this pilot? Online or TV special?

  4. Has anyone heard any rumors about other networks showing an interest? If this is as good as it sounds, it really should end up somewhere.

  5. It makes no sense that Fox passed on this and a steaming pile of crap like “Terra Nova” is on t.v.

  6. I find it hard to believe they thought it was a good idea to tell the entire arc in one episode, unless it was a 2 hour episode. While it certainly isn’t long enough to merit an entire season, you probably need 2 episodes really get the effect. My primary concern with the book as show has always been that, when complete, there will still only be enough material for about 2 10 episode seasons. Even with creative padding there just isn’t that much material from a quantity standpoint. With judicious editing you could conceivably make a damn fine 3 hour movie out of the whole thing.

  7. Well if it’s better then that piece of crap called ‘American Horror Story’ then F/X should have a big egg on their face for that blunder.

  8. Buying the books after that trailer

  9. Saw this at SDCC before reading a single issue. Once I read vol 1, I was amazed at how many comic issues they put into an hour and pulled it off. It was a good pilot, and it made me want to see more… Shame FOX couldn’t cut the “Glee” budget by 1/3 and pay for this. Especially since more Miranda Otto in this world is a good thing!

  10. It doesn’t ‘feel’ right from that trailer. The books have so much potential to win as a TV show. This just doesn’t quite do it.