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Review by David Griffin

Hulu's Castle Rock: Series Premiere Review

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The Kingverse has arrived on Hulu.

This is an advanced SPOILER-FREE review of the first three episodes of Hulu's Castle Rock. You can stream all three episodes on July 25 on Hulu.  

The expanded Stephen King universe has finally arrived in Hulu’s new psychological-horror series, Castle Rock.

Castle Rock’s showrunners, Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, had the difficult task of not only creating a believable Stephen King-inspired playground for their characters to inhabit, but also delivering a compelling standalone drama that will attract non-King enthusiasts as well. Fortunately, Castle Rock accomplishes both in this tense, haunting, and surprisingly funny slice of creepy small-town America.

For die-hard King fans, there are plenty of easter-eggs to feast your eyes on. The opening credits alone are filled with the images of torn and tattered pages from some of King’s classic novels, like The Shining and Misery. Even the town of Castle Rock is substantial in the Kingverse, having been used as the backdrop for Cujo, Doctor Sleep, and The Dead Zone. But what does all of this have to do with the story?

While Castle Rock is stuffed full of Stephen King references, the heart of the story centers on Henry Deaver, skillfully played by Andre Holland (Moonlight). Deaver, a defense attorney whose sole purpose is getting inmates off death row, left Castle Rock as a boy after his adopted father was killed under questionable circumstances. Now, some of the town’s people hold Deaver responsible for what happened, even though there isn’t any substantial proof of his guilt. Holland gives a first-rate performance, as he embodies a man who’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The reason for Deaver’s return to Castle Rock revolves around the infamous Shawshank Prison. After a nameless young man is found in a cage in an abandoned part of the jail, Deaver is asked to provide counsel to the anonymous victim. Bill Skarsgard, who portrayed Pennywise in the recent adaptation of It, does a solid job here of playing the sinister looking prisoner. Skarsgard doesn’t have much to do except mumble a few words and stare menacingly into security cameras and at guards, but he does it well. There seems to be a supernatural aura around him, but it’s too early to tell how significant he will be to the overall story.

Like any good Stephen King novel, Castle Rock is another small Maine town with a seedy underbelly, and unraveling that dark side, at least in the first three episodes, is part of the fun. Deaver is such an effective protagonist to follow because like the viewer, he’s an outsider, even though Castle Rock is his hometown. Through Deaver’s eyes we gain insight into the many tensions bubbling beneath the surface of the town and all of the colorful supporting characters that inhabit it, played by top-notch veteran talent like Scott Glenn, Sissy Spacek, and Terry O’Quinn.

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Even with that all-star lineup, it’s Melanie Lynskey’s (Togetherness) role as Molly Strand that steals the spotlight. Molly is a local real-estate agent and drug addict who claims to hear voices. She’s also the source of much of the awkward comedy in the series, thanks to her humorous encounters with local drug dealers and her childhood crush on Deaver, which makes all of their meetings memorable and uncomfortable. Lynskey has that rare ability to be charming, funny, and threatening all at once. She’s the wild card of the series and could easily be friend or foe. Her continued obsession with Deaver should make for some compelling storylines as the season progresses.

Castle Rock is a story in two parts. On one hand, the series exists in an expanded Stephen King universe that fans can easily get enraptured with, and on the other hand, it’s a fascinating character study about Henry Deaver, who is called back to a place he never wanted to see again. The story explores themes of redemption, loss, and being haunted by the demons of your past. In that sense, Castle Rock is about as classic a story as you can get, that also happens to be set in the same world as Shawshank and Cujo. Basically, all of the Stephen King stuff is just the icing on what is already a delicious cake.

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The Verdict

In the first three episodes, Hulu's Castle Rock builds a fascinating world set in a haunting and funny Stephen King universe that begs to be explored. Hopefully, the rest of the series will keep the momentum going.

Great
Castle Rock is a thrilling new addition to Hulu's original programming lineup.
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