August 10, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Mr. Mercedes”


MR. MERCEDES:  Wednesday 8PM on Audience Network (DirecTV) – DVR Alert

It’s been quite a week for the splintering of television.  FX announced that it, like AMC, would launch a pay version of its service, allowing viewers on certain platforms to watch its shows without commercials for a monthly fee.  Then Disney dropped a long-awaited shoe, pulling its movies from Netflix starting in 2019 for its own standalone subscription service, which will also include original programming.  Tonight, AT&T premiered MR. MERCEDES, a thriller adapted by David E. Kelley from Stephen King’s bestselling novel, and by far the most ambitious original series to air exclusively on its DirecTV platform.  As production entities, cable and satellite carriers, and internet services ask viewers to pay for more and more subscriptions in order to have access to each slice of exclusive original programming, the quality and distinctiveness of that programming will become increasingly critical.

Luckily for AT&T/DirecTV, Mr. Mercedes is off to a promising start in that regard.  Unlike Spike’s cheap, trashy version of King’s The Mist, or the current Dark Tower movie that treats its epic source material like a disposable handi-wipe, Mr. Mercedes is both faithful and respectful to the novel.  The opening hour, written by Kelley and directed by Jack Bender, shows the clear influence of Netflix storytelling, leisurely setting the stage for the suspense to follow with confidence that viewers will stay tuned.

As in the novel, the series centers on retired police detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson), much the worse for wear without his job to keep him going, but roused back into action when the perpetrator of his most painful unsolved crime gets into mocking touch.  That murderer plowed a Mercedes into an unsuspecting crowd one morning, killing 16 of them, and although Bill doesn’t know it yet, he’s electronics store repair specialist Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway).

At least in the early going, Kelley doesn’t try to impose his own recognizable style on King’s work, one of the novelist’s rare non-supernatural stories (although if the series gets that far, the book’s sequels become more conventionally King-like).  The screenwriter has mercifully eliminated the theoretically good-natured pseudo-minstrel comedy of Jerome (Jharrel Jerome), Bill’s African-American electronics whiz kid advisor.  He’s also added one significant character, Bill’s colorful neighbor Ida (Holland Taylor), and although Taylor is fine as always, it’s not clear at this point why Mr. Mercedes needed her elderly-sex gags.  For the most part, though, Kelley is telling the story as King laid it out, and the extra time permitted by serialized television allows for character development that makes the tale more than an empty exercise.

The material is much less showy than much of director Jack Bender’s signature work on shows like Lost and Game of Thrones, and it’s a reminder of how good Bender is with actors, not just Gleeson and Treadaway, but Kelly Lynch as Brady’s awful mother, and Scott Lawrence as Bill’s former partner.

Mr. Mercedes is a classy vehicle that could easily fit on a premium service like FX or a pay-channel.  Once, that would have positioned it for a wide audience, but the fact that it’s available to DirecTV subscribers only means that AT&T is willing to take on the expense of its production for a much smaller crowd, using it as a sales tool for satellite TV.  It’s a future that even Stephen King may not have seen coming.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."