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[TV Review] “Mr. Mercedes” is a Solid Stephen King Adaptation

Mr. Mercedes Review

Though it could use a good polish, strong performances by a talented cast help Mr. Mercedes overcome some minor pacing issues, making for one good Stephen King adaptation this month.

Stephen King has proven himself to be a writing machine, and whenever he has a hit a bidding war quickly starts for its rights (this year alone we also have new adaptations of The Mist, The Dark Tower, It and Gerald’s Game). While film adaptations tend to get developed by major film studios, television adaptations have been getting picked up by smaller networks, with The Mist airing on Spike TV and Mr. Mercedes, which premieres tonight, airing on AT&T’s Audience Network. The network has managed to put together an incredibly talented team for the adaptation of Mr. Mercedes. Television mastermind David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Big Little Lies) has developed the series and acts as showrunner while Jack Bender (LostGame of Thrones) has come aboard as many of the episodes’ director (he directed three of the first four episodes). They also serve as executive producers, along with Stephen King himself. That is all well and good, but great talent doesn’t always guarantee quality (my colleague Daniel Kurland has a different opinion about Mr. Mercedes than I do). So how is Mr Mercedes? Pretty good, actually.

In case you haven’t read King’s exceptional novel upon which this series is based, Mr. Mercedes centers around a psychotic young man named Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway, HoneymoonPenny Dreadful) who drives a stolen Mercedes Benz through a crowd of people standing in line at a job fair one early morning in 2009. Two years later, after spending months taunting the owner of the Mercedes with threatening emails and letters and eventually driving her to suicide, Brady begins using the same tactic on Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson, In BrugesLake Placid), the police detective who wasn’t able to catch him. Now retired and a drunk, Hodges finds a new purpose in life after receiving Brady’s threats and, with the help of his teenage friend Jerome (Jharrel Jerome, Moonlight) and the Janey Patterson (Mary-Louise Parker, WeedsAngels in AmericaFried Green Tomatoes), the sister of the Benz’s deceased owner, re-opens the investigation.

It is no spoiler to reveal that Brady is the murderer, as this story isn’t a whodunit. The pilot, just like King’s novel, makes his identity known early on, and chooses to be more of a character study than an outright horror show. In fact, with the exception of the horrific opening scene (which plays out almost exactly as it did in the novel, crushed infant and all) viewers may not immediately recognize Mr. Mercedes as a Stephen King adaptation, but his fingerprints are all over the thing. They are especially apparent in the case of Brady Hartsfield. Described as slightly “off “by his boss (if he only knew), Brady spends his nights holed up in his basement avoiding the flirtatious eye of his mother (Kelly Lynch, Cocktail, Roadhouse, Charlie’s Angels). By day he works at  he works at Supreme Electronix, a Radio Shack-like store with his outspoken coworker Lou (Breeda Wool, UnREAL) and moonlights as the neighborhood ice cream man, where is keeps an eye on Detective Hodges.

Gleeson seems to be having a blast as the cantankerous Hodges. Once a highly-respected police detective, he now spends his days at home drinking and feeding his pet tortoise. It’s a miserable existence for the man, yet Gleeson somehow manages to make this man’s misery entertaining. A seasoned actor, Gleeson is right at home as Hodges. Treadaway, on the other hand, has the far more difficult task of playing the psychotic Brady. It’s a bit surreal to watch his performance considering that Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away last year, was originally cast in the role. You watch Treadaway’s performance wondering what Yelchin would have done with the part, but Treadaway is more than up to the challenge posed to him. His Brady is practically lifted from King’s novel (albeit without the internal racist monologues) and Treadaway is effectively creepy in the role.

Mr. Mercedes Review

While Gleeson and Treadaway are clearly the stars of the show, it is surprisingly the women who shine the most in their more limited screen time. Parker is a spitfire as Janey, a woman determined to find the man who drove her sister to suicide. Her feistiness provides a much-needed foil for Gleeson’s somber detective. These are two people who have been left broken by Brady’s actions, and watching them come together (in more ways than one) to bring him down is a treat. Wool, meanwhile, reminds us why she was many a viewer’s favorite (well, my favorite) character the first season of UnREAL. Lou gives the show an injection of heart, which proves necessary when dealing with such a dark premise. You won’t learn much about her in the show’s first four episodes, but you’ll want to. Equally captivating is Holland Taylor’s Ida, a minor character in the book given much more to do here. As Hodges’ coquettish neighbor, Taylor steals nearly every scene she is in. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed her carer over the past few decades (I’m a sucker for her performances in The Practice, Legally Blonde and George of the Jungle myself). That being said her scenes with Gleeson do feel like they are part of an entirely different show. It’s a bit jarring to go from serial killer-chasing with Bill and Brady to romantic comedy with Bill and Ida. Truthfully, the character could have been removed from the show and it might improve the pacing (more on that in a bit). Whether Mr. Mercedes will make Ida more relevant to the overall plot of the season remains to be seen, but at least she’s entertaining to watch.

King’s novel was a page-turner through and through, but the adaptation decides to take a slower approach to the source material, fleshing out more characters and adding in a few more subplots. That is to be expected when turning a 350-page novel into a 10-hour television season, but it does produce some pacing issues in the early episodes. The show probably would have done better with an 8-episode season. The aforementioned massacre that takes place during the prologue would have you believe that the series would be as much of a binge-worthy show as the novel is a page-turner, but that’s not exactly the case. Mr. Mercedes takes its sweet time, which may be frustrating for more impatient viewers. After all, what’s the draw when you already know who the killer is? The characters are. The talented cast makes these characters worth watching, and even though the narrative may move along at a snail’s pace at times, Mr. Mercedes is never boring.

Mr. Mercedes could use a bit of polish, but after the supposed disappointment that is The Dark Tower (I say “supposed” because I’ve yet to see it), it is a welcome addition to the long list of Stephen King adaptations. It is good, but not great. The potential is definitely there, and with three books in King’s series, there is plenty of material to mine from. Let’s just hope it is successful because I can’t wait to see what they do with that third book.



  • Necro

    Well here we go in about one hour I’ll be checking it out.

  • Necro

    Ok Trace just finished the first episode of ‘Mr. Mercedes’ and I know it’s only one episode in but I actually like it so far. I’m a patient viewer and the acting is really good. You’re right Mary-Louise is a definite spitfire. I can tell this has a slow burn to it, but it’s a slow burn I can tolerate. The acting supports it. So as long as it doesn’t slow to a crawl where nothing happens for like 3 episodes straight I will definitely tune in each week. Oh and what the fuck! If I didn’t see Kelly Lynch in other films where she is absolutely gorgeous (Road House is my vote), you couldn’t pay me to believe that she’s actually good looking! There’s just no way I’d believe you! Man she is fucking rough in this! On a final thought I felt bad for that mom and her baby the way he ran them down.

    • Have you read the book? King’s written description of it is brutal and heartbreaking. I wonder if the first episode lets you get to know the mom as well as the book did…

      • Necro

        No I haven’t read it. The last book I read of King’s was ‘Gerald’s Game’. I would say you don’t get to know the mom all that well, but you get to know enough. Enough to warrant an opinion that she gives a shit and is trying, not just for herself, but for her child. But also you get that sense of idiocy, a little rough around the edges. If that makes sense.

        • It does make sense. I highly suggest you give the book a read. As for Gerald’s Game, that’s one I haven’t read yet. ^.^

          • Necro

            Ok I will. If I may suggest that you read ‘Gerald’s Game’ even though the film is due to come out soon. Really f**king good! IMO of course.

          • Oh it is definitely on my to-read list! I really need to get caught up on my reviews. XD

    • Glad you enjoyed it! But Parker wasn’t in the pilot. She doesn’t appear until episode 2. =)

      • Necro

        Well now I feel like an idiot! In any case I still like his brutally honest neighbor.

  • I actually couldn’t picture Yelchin as Hartsfield. Especially after he played Odd Thomas (not that I could get very far into that movie). Hopefully I will get a chance to see this,

  • Jarle Solbakken Fremstad

    August 8: “Mr. Mercedes” is Sadly More Like a Busted Up Corolla

    August 9: “Mr. Mercedes” is a Solid Stephen King Adaptation

    Consistency: Thy name is NOT Bloody Disgusting.

    • Hello! It is two different people reviewing the same show. Daniel didn’t like it. I did. We are not required to all have the same opinion. We actually prefer to give a variety of opinions so that readers can figure out which of us they agree with more, thereby becoming more loyal readers to that particular writer. =)

      • Necro

        Ha! As if it was hard to figure out!

        • Jarle Solbakken Fremstad

          Well, duh.

      • Jarle Solbakken Fremstad

        Well yeah, of course, I just figured it be rare for one media outlet to send more than one journalist on these types of… quests. That the reviewer is speaking on behalf of the site. It kind of felt like if a newscaster said “The bombs are coming! ” and then the guy next to him says “The countries are now all good friends!” You know? Oh, God I’m crazy aren’t I?

        • Consider this a second opinion. Sometimes it’s worth it!

    • Saturn

      Aug 8 : “Boiled eggs are awesome”

      “Aug 9 : “FUCK BOILED EGGS!”

      But they are a game changer, and a secret recipe from the Venom prequel.

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