Fox arranged a special Locke & Key screening at NYCC. I can tell you this much: the place was packed. I literally had to stand against a giant cement post to watch it. And I was one of the last few people let in, in spite of the fact there were probably at least one hundred people left behind me. It’s no secret fans of the comic book and fantasy television shows were upset at Fox’s decision to not pick up the pilot this Fall. But I think they made the right decision. Now, before you get very angry at me and stop reading, take a deep breath and listen…
There are two competing fairy tale shows out there this Fall. Grimm (NBC) and Once Upon a Time (ABC). It is true Locke & Key isn’t a fairy tale show but any fan or reader or person with half a brain in their head has to admit it is fairy tale-ish. I had just come from the Once Upon a Time panel to watch Locke & Key and watching them back to back, I was struck by how similar they both seemed and here’s the problem: both shows feature a young boy who is struggling to save the world around him from being engulfed by a world of of make believe. In Once Upon A Time, the world of make believe is reality and in Locke & Key, it’s the opposite, that reality is constantly threatened by magic and fantasy.
While Once Upon a Time has an evil Queen, Locke and Key has the (SPOILER ALERT) evil Echo. Both females. Maybe one is younger than the other but both females are set on destroying the world of these young boys. The other similarity is that Locke & Key has flashbacks throughout the pilot and while I don’t know if that will be standard (but I’m guessing it probably will be because how else do you get your mythology across and explain the past’s grip on the present) on this show, it is ingrained in Once Upon a Time. Sure the styles of the flashbacks are even different but the narrative structure itself is a bit too similar for comfort. At least in the competing season.
Yes, the idea is neat. There exists a set of keys that opens doors throughout the Keyhouse, a mysterious mansion in New England where the Locke family retreats after their father has been killed. There are three siblings and each will gain a power with a specific key… The keys open doors that will transform people who walk through them. Apparently Rendell Locke (Mark Pellegrino plays the deceased dad) used these keys copiously and his family is now paying the price. His three children, Bode (Skylar Gaertner), Tyler (Jesse McCartney) and Kinsey (Sarah Bolger) begin to uncover the secrets and must grapple with their own issues regarding their father’s violent death. Their mother Nina (Miranda Otto), appears to be having a nice time with their long-lost uncle, Duncan (Nick Stahl), because they spend A LOT of time together.
The family must battle their greatest known enemy, Sam Lesser (Harrison Thomas) who killed Rendell for seemingly no apparent reason until we learn in the pilot it was at the urging of Echo (Ksenia Solo). Although the siblings battle Lesser and Echo kills him for the time being (there seems to be an implied promise she can bring him back), we know their nightmare is only just beginning. At the end of the pilot, we go deep inside a tree and discover that is where Rendell has hidden memories kept hidden. These memories are represented by miniature versions of people in jars and we focus on one of his wife, Nina. Honestly, I didn’t even understand what was going on there, I had to read about the San Diego Comic Con panel to discover that’s what the jars represented. That was not Joe Hill‘s idea or in his comic book originally, that was Josh Friedman‘s idea (who wrote the pilot). I’m glad I found that explanation as that was completely confusing and guess what Dreamworks/Fox? I teach film and television and have to understand strange and complicated film and television constantly and I didn’t figure that out. How is your average viewer going to get that?
I know many fans are disappointed and I do think this show could still work. I know that Dreamworks (who acquired rights to make the pilot after Dimension Films lost them) wants to keep it alive and I have a feeling Fox wouldn’t be opposed to it but there needs to be a little time and distance between Once Upon a Time, Grimm and Locke & Key. They did a good job with casting Nick Stahl as Duncan who has been a favorite of mine since HBO’s Carnivale but they had him looking so geeky it took a while to recognize him. Note to director Mark Romanek who every male reviewer seems to get very excited over: don’t make Nick Stahl look geeky. You’re ruining a built in female audience. And perhaps Steven Spiellberg, once again, can stop trying to manipulate the audience with his agenda of forcing people to identify with some cutesy, misunderstood boy. Am I the only person on this planet who sees that we are just seeing another version of E.T. whenever we get a young boy in the lead? Think about it: missing father, misunderstood kids, pre-occupied mother (or dead mother, pre-occupied father), something supernatural or other-worldly. It is the same story over and over again.