A Film Review by Tim Riley

TV CORNER: MR. MERCEDES ON AUDIENCE NETWORK  For original programming, the AT&T Audience Network has masterfully adapted prolific author Stephen King’s hard-boiled detective story and thriller “Mr. Mercedes” into a ten-episode series that results in creepy horror that is anything but supernatural.
A vile act of horrible carnage is vividly and brutally depicted at an Ohio job fair during the economically depressed time of 2009 when unemployed job aspirants line up during the middle of the night for an opportunity to find new work.

The crowd scene at the job fair includes a young woman holding an infant child during the chilly pre-dawn hours along with a young male stranger who proves helpful to the woman while remaining cheerfully optimistic. But, as you would expect, that is about to drastically change. Lurking nearby is a late-model Mercedes with an unseen driver revving the engine as he inexplicably rushes straight for the crowd, going on a deadly rampage to run over and kill as many people as possible. The parallel to recent terrorist attacks in Europe is unmistakable.

Jump forward two years and police detective Bill Hodges (the brilliant Brendan Gleeson), a decorated officer who worked the Mercedes case, has retired because his investigative career has fizzled and crashed as the result of a frustrating inability to solve the crime. Sitting at home with little to do other than feed his pet tortoise, watch television and drink copious amounts of alcohol (yeah, it seems the Irish-accented, overweight retired cop is a stereotype for drunks of his ethnic identity).

One of Bill’s former colleagues, Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence) comes around to visit, expressing concern about his potential suicidal tendencies, but feelings of sympathy start to dissipate when Bill shows increased interest in resolving the cold case of the Mercedes killings.

Bill is stirred from the lethargy of retirement when the real killer taunts him through the computer for not solving the murders. Obviously, the killer has tech skills and it’s not hard to see that computer nerd Brady (Harry Treadaway) is ready for a challenging cat-and-mouse game.

Working at a Radio Shack-type superstore, Brady lives with his mom (Kelly Lynch), an alcoholic widow who shows way too much affection for the creepy son that hides in the basement, ostensibly working on secretive computer projects. Not able to catch a break, Bill is also needled by his lonely neighbor, Ida (Holland Taylor), who questions when he last had sex, trying to seduce him by showing pictures on her cell phone of her naked body. Meanwhile, the killer, who prowls the neighborhood in a part-time job driving an ice cream truck, mocks the detective’s professional impotence on cracking the case, sending threatening letters and interrupting his computer and TV set with cryptic messages.

Retracing old steps with the help of the teenage tech-savvy Jerome (Jharrel Jerome), Bill hopes to find a break that would put him on the trail of the killer, even though the police insist that some hapless drifter has already confessed to the crime. Searching for clues in the impounded Mercedes, Bill comes away with the notion that there must be an explanation for how the car was stolen when the owner insisted so forcefully that she didn’t lose the keys. While the car owner is no longer around for follow-up questioning, her sister Janey (Mary-Louise Parker) is only too willing to hire Bill as a private detective to reopen the case the police show no interest in pursuing any further.

The lack of police cooperation with Bill, who is now viewed increasingly as an aimless drunk on the verge of an early trip to the grave, creates a lot of tension between the retired detective and just about everyone else in law enforcement. The “Mr. Mercedes” series has been created by David E. Kelley, who has a strong track record in television having crafted popular shows like “Chicago Hope” and “Boston Legal” along with the recent HBO special series “Big Little Lies.” Writing for robust performances is his strong suit.
The first four episodes were made available for preview, and based on the simmering tension with an odd range of characters, most particularly the disturbing behavior of the unhinged Brady, it’s safe to say that a lot of surprises remain in waiting.

This adaptation is different from the usual horror stories, but at the gathering of the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Harry Treadway astutely observed that “Stephen King taps into the zeitgeist of what scares us so amazingly well,” even on the human rather than supernatural level.
“Mr. Mercedes” has captured my rapt attention to the eerie patterns of behavioral quirks, from those of Brady’s co-workers to the disinterest of Bill’s old colleagues, and watching the remaining six episodes seems like something approximating a necessity.