STUDIO: Lions Gate
MSRP: $34.98
RUNNING TIME: 504 Minutes
The Production Design of The Dead Zone featurette
• Commentary on 2 episodes
• Deleted scenes

The Pitch

Same as the great King book, same as the excellent Cronenberg flick, only so far taking way longer to resolve.

The Humans

Anthony Michael Hall, Nicole de Boer, Chris Bruno, John L. Adams, David Ogden Stiers.

"Shit, I wish I’d known to get the full coverage instead of the liability only…"

The Nutshell

Johnny Smith (Hall in a career Renaissance) is a Maine school teacher who is in an accident and left comatose for six years. When he wakes up he finds that his girlfriend, Sarah (de Boer) has moved on and married another man, Sheriff Walt Bannerman (Bruno), and they’re raising Smith’s son, JJ, who was conceived right before Johnny’s accident. Those aren’t the only changes Johnny has had to adjust to since his awakening. His mother has since died and left her estate to Reverend Gene Purdy and his ministries; and Johnny was also left lame by the accident and now requires a cane to walk. But the biggest change in Johnny’s life is that since awakening, he now possesses incredible psychic powers. With one touch of a person or object, Johnny gets vivid recreations of events from the past or future. Knowing the future allows Johnny to act to change it when it threatens someone, or knowing the unknown past allows him to solve mysteries that no one else can, including when he tracked down a serial killer. Feeling an obligation to help when he can, Johnny struggles with his new power in a world that both beckons him and fears him.

"Hi, I’m Sarah, your Avon lady and this is my associate, Johnny. I’m selling our new deluxe makeup package, which I just had a feeling that you’re going to need for your sister, Marsha’s upcoming wedding. And seeing as how she stole your boyfriend when you were out of town visiting your sick Aunt Harriet, and now he’s marrying her instead of you and so you had that lipsuction and facelift to make yourself over and show him that he’s made the biggest mistake of his life in leaving you for that bitch who your mother always liked better than you…anyway, I just thought you might be interested…

The Lowdown

I’m a fan of this show. I both read the book and saw the movie, and I think that this is definitely one of the best of the dozens of Stephen King adaptations. First of all, the premise is great for television because almost every episode involves Johnny trying to solve a mystery of some sort or find a way to change a terrible future that is, in the words of Yoda, “always in motion.” Early on Zone also incorporated the tense drama of Johnny trying to adjust to a world that has passed him by, particularly his family. The arc of Johnny trying to come to terms with Sarah marrying another man and raising their son as hers and Walt’s dominated much of the first season, and was an interesting backdrop for the psychic goings-on in the forefront.

"Look, you know I don’t like you because eventually you’re going to destroy the world in that whole apocalypse thing, but I was wondering…did Victor Salva ever offer to personally shave you during Powder?

And speaking of the psychic, that’s particularly handled well, as the playbacks of Johnny’s visions are frequently done in cool 3D playback, often playing with time, forwards and backwards, like a Tivo. Being that this adaptation is episodic, the time is now allotted to explore Johnny’s powers in much more depth than either the book or the movie was able to do. Some of the things they’ve played with so far is Johnny having visions while on a hallucinogen, sharing visions with another psychic from the future (Frank Whaley), and a present day psychic that’s a little more shapely (Jennifer Finnigan). There was also an instance in Season 2 in the episode, Deja Voodoo, where Johnny had a Groundhog Day experience involving the murder of a young woman (Reiko Aylesworth) that he just met in a bar that, no matter what he did to change it, she kept dying and he kept reliving it over and over. It turns out that the entire episode was once vision that he lived over and over in a split second. Another similar instance is when Hall was joined by fellow Breakfast Club alum, Ally Sheedy, in another Season 2 episode, Playing God, when he saw that her brother and Johnny’s friend was going to die without a heart transplant and the one he got was going to be Sheedy’s, which Johnny knew but was faced with the choice of letting her, an old flame, or his friend die.

"Ooh, Mr. Hotshot Psychic…didn’t see this traffic jam coming did you?"
"Maybe not, but I do see your ass bleeding on the side of the road in a second…"

The series did delve into the hopelessness that both the book and film incarnations of Johnny spiraled towards when realizing that his power was killing him and when he met Stillson. And Stillson is back in the form of former electric albino, Sean Patrick Flanery. Here Johnny’s fateful relationship with Stillson has time to simmer like gumbo. Stillson is Johnny’s age and just starting out in politics, rather than being Martin Sheen’s older politician on the fast track to the White House. He’s not as ruthless as Sheen’s version, but he’s still on the inevitable path to the dark side. Upon first meeting Stillson, Johnny got an apocaplyptic vision of Washington, DC in flames and he knows that Stillson is directly responsible. It’s the main overall mythology of the show that Johnny is working to unravel before it’s too late. There’s also a couple of smaller mysteries involving Stillson that Johnny gets involved with, and they bookend Season 4.

"Sure, I can help you find your lost dog. I’ll need to touch something close to you to get a vision. Your breasts perhaps…"

The first episode, Broken Circle, involves Johnny trying to stop former flame, Rebecca, (Sarah Wynter) from killing Stillson because she thinks he’s responsible for her sister’s murder. Stillson is involved, but how much so is what Johnny has to discover. And in the second to last episode, Saved, the tables are turned when Stillson has to turn to Johnny to help him find his girlfriend who has disappeared. Other episodes include Johnny’s meeting Jennifer Finnigan, the female psychic and together they investigate a murder and also must work to stop Jennifer’s vision of her own death (Double Vision). In The Last Goodbye, Sarah and Johnny investigate what happened to a rock and roll star who died mysteriously when they see the musician’s son perform. This also leads them to putting a little more closure on their relationship. And Johnny has to dig into his own father’s past in Babble On, when he’s besieged by some bad nightmares.

Since his hands have become his calling card, Johnny always moisturizes…I mean really moisturizes

Of course the show is carried on the shoulders of Anthony Michael Hall, and he’s very likeable in the role and easy to watch. It’s good to see Hall back in the saddle after his ‘80s heyday, and he gets to do much different work than I’ve seen him do before, save perhaps his turn in Pirates of Silicon Valley. I also like Nicole de Boer, especially after her work in the best of the modern Star Treks, DS9. She’s a good choice in the Sarah role and her resemblance to a young Brooke Adams is fairly uncanny. She and Hall have a good chemistry onscreen, although her role in the show has steadily gotten smaller as she and Johnny have slowly moved on in slightly different directions. The rest of the cast is fine, particularly Stiers, whom I’ve always liked going back to his M*A*S*H* days.

You really think it’s a good idea to keep that Kobe Tai porn you downloaded yesterday where your wife can find it in your My Videos folder on the computer, David?

The Package

The show looks good and thankfully is shot in 1.77:1 widescreen, and the audio is in (what else) Dolby Digital. The psychic visions are the distinct look of the show and they’ve gotten away a little from the initial look of the stutter-step intros to the visions for just slow flash ins at times. The flashbacks are covered in the 17-minute Season 4 featurette, The Production Design of The Dead Zone, along with, well the production design. There’s also commentary on the two big Stillson episodes, Broken Circle and Saved, the former with Producers Lloyd Segan and Shawn Piller, writer Michael Taylor and Hall; and Segan, Piller and Hall on the latter. There’s also several episodes with deleted scenes, presented as they should be, on the menu of each episode rather than jumbled on on one disc at the end with no sense of place nor context. Finally, there’s a quick pictorial tribute to the late creator and executive producer, Michael Piller, who died of cancer during Season 4. Piller is directly responsible for the success of Dead Zone, and I dug his work as producer and writer on Star Trek: TNG, Voyager and especially DS9. A true talent who’s gone before we were ready.

8.1 out of 10