Adapting Stephen King's The Mist: The 2017 TV Show Is Stuck In No Man’s Land Between Being A Remake And A Spinoff

Man on gurney The Mist
(Image credit: Dimension Television)

Frank Darabont’s The Mist may be a shocking, dark, depressing, and haunting piece of cinema, but it was also a box office success. As I noted in my column about the film back in June, the director’s unwillingness to change his screenplay’s horrific ending scared studios off and forced him to make the movie with a limited budget, but the happy result of that path was a positive cost-to-ticket sales ratio. The Stephen King adaptation was made for less than $20 million and it nearly tripled that amount playing on the big screen around the globe, pulling in $57.5 million worldwide. 

Given the ending the of the film, there obviously was no way that a direct sequel could be produced, so a different avenue was pursued to take advantage of its popularity. About eight years after Frank Darabont’s movie first hit theaters, Dimension Television announced that Stephen King’s novella from the 1985 collection Skeleton Crew would be inspiring a new on-going series, with Danish filmmaker Christian Torpe hired as showrunner and producer. I use the word “inspire” purposefully, because it was announced from the start that the show would use King’s work as more of a guide than an outline.

After getting Stephen King’s stamp of approval and getting picked up by the network then known as Spike, The Mist aired a 10-episode first season in the summer of 2017… but then it died a swift death. The show debuted just a few months before Spike was to be rebranded as Paramount Network, ratings quickly dwindled after the premiere (according to The Hollywood Reporter), and it was cancelled only a little over a month after the Season 1 finale.

So is this a case of an underrated show getting the axe before it has the chance to find an audience, or is The Mist TV show a case where nature ran its proper course? And how does it live as a live-action interpretation of the story alongside Frank Darabont’s work? These are the big topics of discussion in this week’s Adapting Stephen King.

Smoke monster in The Mist

(Image credit: Dimension Television)

How The Mist TV Series Differs From Frank Darabont’s The Mist

The Mist TV series has a strange connection to Frank Darabont’s film, and it stems from the fact that the former doesn’t seem to fully know what kind of relationship it wants with the latter. As noted, the show never planned to be a devoutly faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, but there is a bizarre vacillation in it seemingly wanting to be a spinoff of the movie and a reboot/remake that wholly does its own thing with the source material.

Both adaptations are set in a small Maine town that gets overtaken by a supernatural mist full of danger and death, but notably don’t feature any crossover with protagonists and the principal setting. David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane in 2007’s The Mist) is never mentioned, and while the show features drama in a mall, a church, a hospital, a police station and more locations, one place that we never see any of the characters go is to the local supermarket.

By making these moves, there is an impression given that the show could be depicting the same events from Frank Darabont’s The Mist but from different characters’ perspectives – and Christian Torpe didn’t exactly do a lot to dismantle that notion. Speaking with /Film prior to the series premiere, the filmmaker explained,

We are sort of in, let's call it, a parallel universe, I use the term lightly, to the original event. We definitely exist in the same world. Clearly, we're in a different time because now we have cell phones and other stuff so it's not literal, but we are very conscious of keeping this version of The Mist in the same overall world as the original was set in.

As easy as it is to appreciate that approach, the problem is that when one looks at the show in its entirety, the execution is lacking – and it has absolutely nothing to do with cell phones. The problem is the nature of the mist itself and where it comes from. The Arrowhead Project – the operation on-going at a local military base – remains the suggested origin of the nightmare, but just about everything else about it is changed.

In the Stephen King novella and the movie, the mist is a byproduct of the military opening up a door to an alternate, Lovecraftian dimension and accidentally letting wide varieties of monsters to enter our universe. For the show, Christian Torpe opted to go in a different direction with the horror, and decided to get rid of all the monsters. Instead of being filled with beasts covered in tentacles, fangs and poison stingers, the show opts for inconsistency. In some episodes, the mist seems to have some kind of psychic ability that lets it prey on any individual’s greatest fears (for example, a priest played by Dan Butler ends up being killed by a manifestation of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse). In others, though, there is a kind of smoke creature that is able to teleport through the haze and drain the life from people.

I’ll also add that The Mist TV series also has its own Mrs. Carmody (Mary Bacon), though she ends up being killed in the first episode. As far as continuity goes, one could explain that detail away by saying that she is perhaps the sister of Marcia Gay Harden’s character from Frank Darabont’s movie – but the complete lack of clarity regarding the connection between the two works is otherwise frustrating and detrimental.

IThe Mist

(Image credit: Dimension Television)

How The Mist TV Series Differs From The Novella

As far as on-going television series adaptations of Stephen King books go, The Mist is closer to CBS’ Under The Dome than Syfy’s Haven in that it actually does still bear some semblance to the source material on which it is based, but simultaneously it is a very different story. King’s novella is a study of how people act in a crisis – locking a group of disparate characters together in a closed space and watching humans become worse monsters than those of the flesh-tearing variety. The show has some of that, but it winds up getting diluted due to the size of the ensemble and scope of the plotting.

The closest that The Mist gets to creating the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of Stephen King’s story is in the local mall, which is where mother and daughter protagonists Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and Alex Copeland (Gus Birney) are trapped with dozens of other strangers. There are a lot of resources, and the mall manager Gus Bradley (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) quickly tries to establish order and democracy among the scared crowd, but the resources are far from infinite, and it takes no time at all for trust to be tested and for the survivors to become fractured into separate camps. And further adding drama is the presence of Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove), the son of the town sheriff (Darren Pettie) who has been accused by Alex of drugging and raping her at a party the night before the mist rolled into town.

There is a lot of escalating tension and fear among the trapped, but where The Mist TV series really deviates from Stephen King’s work is the creation of two outside plotlines that play out in parallel. One is driven by Kevin Copeland (Morgan Spector), who is separated from Eve and Alex in the pilot because Eve blames Kevin for allowing their daughter to go out to the party where she was assaulted. When the mist rolls in, he is at the police station, and he ends up being paired with his daughter’s best friend, Adrian (Russell Posner), and a pair of prisoners: Bryan (Okezie Morro), a soldier from the Arrowhead Project suffering from amnesia, and Mia (Danica Curcic), an opioid addict with a sketchy past. Together they try and make their way to the mall, but end up stopping at an auto mechanic, a hospital, and several houses along the way.

The third plotline follows developments at the local Catholic Church where a war of faith is waged. Father Romanov (Dan Butler) attempts to keep his flock calm with Christian teachings, but his authority is challenged by Nathalie Raven (Frances Conroy), who is convinced the mist is a beautiful, cleansing act of nature, and starts developing a cult like following – with Sheriff Heisel as her main supporter.

With the exception of some soldiers from the Arrowhead Project committing suicide at the mall, there really isn’t anything specifically from the plotting of the novella that is featured in The Mist TV show, though I suppose one might say that endings are somewhat similar. While Stephen King’s story is open-ended and doesn’t define a fate for the characters, the same can be said of the series, as its cancellation after one season results in a lot of loose threads not getting tied up.

Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and Alex Copeland (Gus Birney) in The Mist

(Image credit: Dimension Television)

Is It Worthy Of The King?

I’ve noted multiple times over the course of writing this column that Stephen King’s novellas tend to be the stories best suited for feature film adaptation, and Frank Darabont’s The Mist is one perfect example of this. The Mist TV show, however, teaches us a different lesson: Stephen King’s novellas are ill-suited to be adapted as on-going series. Similar to how the author’s short stories tend to struggle when brought to the big screen, the necessity for a production to add an abundance of original ideas to the preexisting source material has a tendency to take away from what is effective on the page.

The escalating terror in Stephen King’s novella and Frank Darabont’s film is demolished by the necessary rising and falling action of all 10 episodes in the series, and it’s slow development makes the experience a slog – especially when the stakes become wildly inconsistent. For some it only takes mere seconds in the mist to be attacked and killed by supernatural forces, but other characters are able to run long distances without even seeing a threat.

It also needs to be said: psychological hauntings aren’t nearly as awesome or impressive as Lovecraftian goliaths from another dimension.

As far as TV series adaptations of Stephen King stories go, The Mist isn’t in the basement alongside Under The Dome and Haven, but I’d also rank it lower than the generally mediocre USA Network series adaptation of The Dead Zone.

Nathalie Raven (Frances Conroy), (Darren Pettie), and Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove) in The Mist

(Image credit: Dimension Television)

How To Watch The Mist TV Series

For those of you who are hoping that you can add The Mist TV series to your Ultimate Stephen King collection, I have some bad news: the show has never been released on physical media in any form in any region. And while it was streaming on Netflix for a time, that is no longer the case. At present, your only options to watch it are digital: you can rent and/or purchase episodes via Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Apple, and Google Play.

Looking ahead to the next installment of Adapting Stephen King, next week is admittedly one that I have been dreading since I first started working on this column, as it will be time to discuss Nikolaj Arcel's The Dark Tower, the notorious movie based on King’s magnum opus. The feature will be published next Wednesday in the CinemaBlend Movies section, and you can discover all of my previous pieces by clicking through the banners below.

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Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.