Locke & Key: Season 1 — a review

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Let’s get this out of the way at the very beginning, shall we? Personal anecdote time.

Years ago, back when I was working for the Target Corporation, my boss at the time had decided to have a get-together at his big house in the country (which he has since lost, along with the wife and children who lived in it), and he wanted to make it a family thing. We were all encouraged (read: required) to attend, and instructed to bring along our families. I recall that my wife and I took our granddaughter Makayla with us, which means her sister hadn’t been born yet, which in turn places this event about fifteen years ago. Makayla turns 20-years-old this year. (Now you get a further glimpse into how my mind works.)

I was discussing this mandatory work function with one of my peers, another “executive team leader” (read: assistant manager) named Tony. Tony and I had opened this particular store together, and had become pretty tight work-friends. There is a real bond that you develop by doing a tour through hell together. I remember a conversation that we had about taking our families to this party. At the time, Tony had only one child, his daughter, who was about the same age as my granddaughter. Since then, he’s had two additional children, I believe, including a son. There was another executive team leader whom neither of us were close to (who, in fact, would be terminated not too long after this party for doing a subpar job). I made the offhand remark, to Tony, that I was looking forward to the party so that I could see if this other co-worker’s children were as ugly in person as they were in the photograph he displayed of them on his desk.

Tony laughed, briefly, which was—of course—the response I was going for. But, then, he cut it off in mid-chuckle and said, with a serious expression on his face, “No, we don’t do that, man. Kids are off-limits.”

Tony was correct, of course. I was going for the cheap laugh (which I got, by the way), but I did it in the most vile, lowbrow way. I could say whatever I wanted to about our adult co-worker. Believe me, he had more than earned our contempt and ridicule. But, his children had never done anything to harm me. They were awkward-looking kids, I’ll add, but I’m sure they blossomed into normal-looking adults eventually. I’m sure the one son eventually grew into his giant jug ears and jack-o-lantern face, or had them surgically corrected at some point.

Tony was a much better person than I am. He had the right of it when he said that kids were off-limits.

I’m reminded of this now because one of the things I disliked the most about this first season of Netflix’s Locke & Key involves the youngest child actor in the series. Every time he opened his mouth in these episodes made me feel like I was biting on aluminum foil. Seriously, I think I clenched my jaws so tightly that the fillings in my back teeth ached. Every line the kid uttered sounded like he was permanently dialed to at least 8, regardless of the content of the dialogue. There was no nuance, no inkling that he understood any of the emotion he was supposed to be communicating with his lines, which he had obviously rehearsed with his mother to the point that they were meaningless to him.

That’s mean, I know. Kids are off-limits. Tony was right about that, and so many other things. But, there’s no way I could give an honest review of this series without including this fact. So, I thought that I would front-load it.

Since that’s now out of the way, and you realize what a petty, small, mean-spirited person I am at heart, I can tell you what I liked about the season. As well as other things I didn’t care for, of course.

Locke & Key is the brainchild of Joe Hill, the author who wrote the novel Heart-Shaped Box, and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, both of which I loved. He also wrote the novel Horns, which I’m reading even as of the date I’m writing this. He’s written other stuff as well, including NOS4A2 (which I’ve never read, although I did watch the television series based upon it) and The Fireman (which I own a copy of, but haven’t read yet). I am a fan of Hill’s work. Like Ray Bradbury before him (and perhaps other authors I could easily namedrop here), Mr. Hill has a way of introducing fantastical things into a story and then making them seem real. He is a gifted author.

Locke & Key was a comic book series released by IDW, from 2008 to 2013. It was written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve actually read the first couple of issues on my Kindle Fire. It qualifies to rightfully claim the title of “graphic novel,” since the story has a definite beginning, middle and ending.

This series seems to be loosely based upon that standalone work. It is apparently not the first time that someone has attempted to adapt the graphic novel. A television pilot with an entirely different cast was made back in 2011, but FOX chose not to take it to series. Netflix, always hungry for content, didn’t have the same reservations about the series this time.

In spite of my earlier child-actor-bashing, this series is not a complete train wreck. There was a lot that I liked about it. The idea of Key House, and the magical keys, was interesting, even fun before it turned scary. And Dodge, the well-lady, was a genuinely frightening villain. The sea caves, which their notoriety for drowning the ill-informed, and the Omega Door are a nice touch. The other actors in the series also do well enough in their roles. There’s the obligatory boss battle at the end of the season, and the perfunctory horror-movie-cliché epilogue, the cliffhanger letting us know that our apparent resolution wasn’t really resolved.

The older Locke children, Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones), are both attractive CW-ready actors who do a serviceable job with the material they’re given. Jessup reminds me of a young Ryan Phillippe, and he seems to have the comparable himbo acting range for the moment. I’m certain he will have a good career ahead of him. Jones is the more impressive of the pair, and seems to be punching below her weight in this. I look forward to seeing her in meatier roles. Darby Stanchfield also does a good job as the Locke mother, Nina, while Bill Heck does the same as Rendell Locke, their father, in flashbacks.

There are other actors I recognize from other roles who I’m not going to discuss here, because I doubt this will be an important part of their filmographies.

This played like a watered-down young adult novel. It is rated TV-14, which should have been my first clue. Although I haven’t read the source material, I don’t think the graphic novel was strictly kiddie fare. I believe we’ve lost something in translation here. This comes across more as a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mystery, at best, and perhaps a Scooby-Doo mystery at its worst.

Not a total waste of time, though. There are some interesting ideas presented. I just wished it had skewed a little more adult and went for the real horror that was hinted at.

Firewater’s Best-Available-Idea-Doesn’t-Make-Something-a-Good-Idea Report Card: B

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I wasn’t going to mention that Joe Hill is the pseudonym of Joe Hillstrom King, son of Stephen, but he follows in his father’s footsteps and has a cameo in this season. He looks and sounds too much like a younger version of his father to not comment on it. The series has been a success on Netflix and is renewed for a second season. As of today, I’m not sure that I’ll invest any additional time in it. Time will tell.

3 thoughts on “Locke & Key: Season 1 — a review

  1. Just a few days ago I watched the end episode for this show, and while not exactly blown away by it, I think it was a more than decent work, especially because it made the YA-based overall theme quite palatable – and I usually tend to be leery of anything YA related…
    I’ve read somewhere that the graphic novel was much more “bloody and terrifying”, and I’m glad that the TV version of the story preferred to stay with mood-horror rather than the other kind, concentrating rather on some stunning visuals rather than other scary effects. And now I’m curious to see where season 2 will take us.
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Mood-horror” is a succinct way of putting it. Ultimately, I just felt it was a lot of setting the tone followed by too-little payoff. Still, I would be inclined to stick with it if, let’s say, Bode could somehow be deactivated with the Silence Key.

      Liked by 1 person

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