[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Something wicked this way comes Sunday night when NOS4A2 arrives on AMC in the lead-out spot from Fear the Walking Dead‘s fifth season premiere. Based on the 720-page novel of the same name by Joe Hill, the series is a multi-thread affair that follows a teen coming into new abilities, a young woman who’s already using hers, and a vampire running the roads of America in a vintage Rolls-Royce Wraith absconding with children under cover of darkness.
Australian Ashleigh Cummings headlines her first American series as Vic McQueen, an 18-year-old high school student itching to get out of her small Massachusetts town and pursue her art. She’s saddled with a pair of ne’er-do-well parents, Chris (Ebon Moss-Bachrach of Girls) and Linda (Virginia Kull of Sneaky Pete), who are firmly blue collar and greet her collegiate ambition with variable degrees of disdain and empty promises. Her escapes are her art and her motorbike. When the latter suddenly, literally, opens new roads, her world changes.
Newcomer Jahkara Smith, KILLING it in her first professional role, plays Maggie Leigh, a librarian in Here, Iowa, who also happens to be a medium. When one of her young students disappears, she turns to her gift for help, despite the pushback from the local authorities, which include father figure, Sheriff Bly (Elementary‘s Chris McKinney). Soon, she’s on her way to New England chasing her own leads.
Zachary Quinto is Charlie Manx, a Benjamin Button-style character who’s never called a vampire outright but his license plate (and the title of the series) are big clues. Manx pilots his big black Wraith across the country, collecting children on his way to a mythical “Christmas Land” amusement park under highly nefarious circumstances. Doing so seems to reverse his aging, but only for a short while.
Olafur Darri Olafsson (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) is Bing Partridge, the high school handyman who shares a love of comic books with Vic, and who’s dangerously pliable when an opportunity for personal advancement comes his way.
The series is executive produced by Jami O’Brien, who was a writer and producer on Hell on Wheels (which y’all may recall I was ALL IN on) during its entire run, and she did a stint of the same on the third season of Fear the Walking Dead. She wrote the pilot here, and I love that she carries a “Created by” credit on this. Kari Skogland, who helmed a handful of The Handmaid’s Tale and Condor episodes and the entire first season of the upcoming Falcon & Winter Soldier series, directs the first two episodes.
I’ve watched the first four, and they’re a kicky vibe that’s a cross-section of straight-up boogedy, bump-in-the-dark horror and black comedy when focused on Manx and indie film with a side of supernatural when focused on Vic and Maggie.
Vic is a solid tether for the audience as a young woman trying to find her own identity despite evolving, extraordinary circumstances. When we meet her, she’s flailing a bit, trying to figure out what a future might be for her, while still being bonded to her folks (definitely more her dad than her mom). That doesn’t mean she doesn’t still resent her circumstances or that they’ve not gone very far since their high school days and they’re OK with that. She doesn’t want to follow that path.
Vic’s further torn because her childhood BFF, Willa (Tell Me a Story‘s Paulina Singer) is home from prep school with rich kids in tow, while her other BFF, Craig (Second Act‘s Dalton Harrod) is spiraling on weed. Darby Camp (Big Little Lies) is her young neighbor, Haley, who she keeps her eye on.
When Vic’s bike takes her somewhere completely unexpected and it’s accompanied by pretty extreme physical ramifications, she has to decide whether it’s worth it. She doesn’t have to wait long to realize that there is no middle ground–she’s in or she’s not, and she has to live with whatever that brings. She begrudgingly finds a kindred soul in Maggie, who’s anxious to have Vic come onside.
Manx is a strangely folksy predator and Quinto plays him in and out of heavy prosthetics, adjusting his voice according to Manx’s age and audience. Manx is is in full sales mode as he spins yarns to assuage the anxiety of children. When he turns his attention to the adults, the underlying menace moves to the forefront, yet Manx rarely raises his voice–even when enacting violence. The first few episodes find him working very hard to woo, with a very specific mission, but we’re not privy yet to what exactly that is.
I really like what I’ve seen so far, and the violence, save one scene that specifically bothered me, is barely a blip for the fans who will keep the TV on after Fear the Walking Dead Sunday. Aside from Quinto, Kull, and Moss-Bacharach, the rest of this cast is new to me, but they’re all aces. I’ve not read the book, so I can’t speak to how accurately it’s been adapted, but author Hill is an executive producer of the series.
Standing on its own, it’s an intriguing, and dare I say, timely (even though it was initially in development with AMC almost four years ago) story of two young women taking on a very dark force. I love that there are so many women onscreen and behind the scenes on this. I look forward to seeing where the season goes from here.
NOS4A2 airs Sunday nights at 10 pm/9c on AMC. Here are a couple of sneak peeks for the first two episodes. You can watch the episodes after they air on AMC’s website, or binge the whole first season now if you register for AMC Premium.
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