Ramblings On…The Dead Zone Pilot Episode (Wheel Of Fortune)
warning: Steely Dan will be heard in this episode!
I am not someone who watches a lot of first run television. Usually, I find a show, possibly two, that I watch religiously. Sometimes that obsessive dedication lasts until the show goes off the air, sometimes it only lasts only one season and then I move on. This is actually a show I never watched first run. I always intended to--as soon as I heard the show was coming into existence, I wanted to watch it, but I never climbed aboard.
The Dead Zone aired on USA beginning in the summer of 2002. The summer of 2007 it ended it’s sixth season. When the show began I was working full time and in law school. My severely taxed time already had filled its television quota. I was watching Buffy, Angel and Farscape...at least when I wasn’t in class...and in the summer, when The Dead Zone premiered, I think I was probably asleep...because when I wasn’t at work that was how I spent my summers after a school year of sleeping four hours a night. I finished law school before the show went off the air, but with getting a new job I wasn’t ready to start watching live shows on television until about 2008. I was supposed to start watching the show in the seventh season...but then the show wasn’t renewed.
Currently, the one show I watch first run is Supernatural. In an effort to fill the time during the current hiatus, I’ve been watching movies and checking out other shows. Not too long ago, I decided to rewatch Weird Science for the first time in years. It reminded me of how much I loved Anthony Michael Hall. Since I haven’t seen anything he has been in since The Dark Knight, I figured I would finally check out this show.
If I loved AMH before, I fell in love with him with The Dead Zone. He did a wonderful job. I was so impressed with the way Michael and Shawn Piller expanded the story based on the book by Stephen King for episodic television.
The pilot, entitled “Wheel of Fortune”, aired for the first time June 16, 2002. It seems that originally, it was going to be a two hour pilot, but the original pilot was broken down into two episodes and additional scenes were added in. The DVD box set for the first season actually has a blank disc space so that you can send away for a DVD of the unaired two hour version. It expired in 2003, so unfortunately I am 9 years too late to pick it up. As alluded to, The Dead Zone book by Stephen King was made into a television story by Michael and Shawn Piller, the teleplay was written by Michael Piller. Michael Piller was best known as a writer for the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine and Voyager. He passed away in 2005. Michael’s son, Shawn, is an executive producer on Haven and Greek. The pilot episode was directed by Robert Lieberman.
Johnny Smith has the very normal life of a high school science teacher in Cleaves Mills, Maine. He is engaged to the woman he has been in love with his entire life. Going out to get some movies one night, he is in a terrible car crash that takes away a lot more than the six years following, during which he is in a coma. In exchange for the life he knew, he winds up with a gift that changes everything...
and on to the analysis…
In my opinion, this pilot is one of the best television pilots I have seen. Ever. We get exactly what we need, without too much expository dialogue. I’m not just talking about the book set up to the accident and what follows, but also the little changes from the book. I loved how Johnny and Sarah’s relationship is expanded. In the series, they are soul mates that you know were always supposed to be together, and probably still are. We know right away that Johnny and Sarah have known each other since they were children. The pilot starts off with the incident on the pond where Johnny hits his head. The year is 1976 in Cleaves Mills, Maine. Sarah is there. When Johnny hits his head, he gets a flash of one of the hockey skaters under water after he fell through the ice. He is crying out to “Leave it there”. Several kids, and the coach of the youth hockey team practicing come over and have no idea why he is crying that out. He must be confused. They decide to pack up for the day. One of the kids goes over to pick up a hockey stick left on the ice and he falls through. He is pulled out of the water by the coach. Sarah, talking to Johnny, says “Leave it there. Guess he didn’t hear you.”
We flash forward twenty years and Johnny is a science teacher at the high school. When we first see him he is teaching class...in a tree. You know those moments when someone does something that makes your heart flutter and you just KNOW you are in love with them? Well, this is that moment for me with Johnny Smith. Here he is, in a tree with his class, teaching them about photosynthesis, then when he is getting out of the tree, making monkey movements after saying that up in the trees is where it all began. (the Principal came by and sternly, but affectionately tells them they need to get out of the tree). With this we know that this normal, ordinary guy--so ordinary that he even has a name like John Smith, is extraordinary in his own way. It isn’t about his uncanny ability to once in a while get feelings about people or things, but the way he relates to people. The way he makes people feel. When Johnny is coming out of the tree, Sarah sees him from the music room. I’m sure that this was one of those moments for her, too. There is a cute janitor’s closet scene and the whole school set up in the beginning made me fall in love with Johnny and Sarah’s love.
Johnny’s father passed away when he was a boy--that is different than the book, as is the introduction of Reverend Purdy. Johnny’s mom is with a Reverend who has his own television show and Faith Center that Johnny has a funny feeling about. He feels Reverend Purdy is after his mother’s money. That was another change. Johnny’s family wasn’t well off in the book, but in the show, his father’s family own mines and they have money.
Johnny is in the car crash and wakes up in the long term care wing six years later. His mother is dead, Reverend Purdy is his legal guardian and trustee, Sarah is married to the town sheriff, Walter Bannerman. They have a son. Johnny’s son, actually. Johnny doesn’t want to interfere with their lives and tells Sarah he loves her and all he can give her is her freedom, but as Sarah says, they have known each other their whole lives and that won’t change. Episode 2 focuses on something that shows up in the first episode, which is the rapes/murders of the young women. Johnny’s gift assists in the capture of the rapist/murderer and establishes Johnny and Walt’s friendship, despite the Sarah situation.
As far as Johnny’s gift is concerned, we see that through touch of objects, he can see into what people have seen, through touch of people, he can see past or future events. There isn’t really a rulebook to his visions. He sees what he needs to see. It doesn’t happen every time he touches someone or something, but often enough to make things interesting.
Another new character for the television show is Johnny’s physical therapist, Bruce. Johnny is in pretty rough shape when he comes out of the coma. He doesn’t need excessive surgeries to elongate tendons like book Johnny did, but he does require intense physical therapy. Bruce and Johnny’s bromance throughout the series is great.
There is also a brief mention of Greg Stillson in the pilot episode. See? The show expounds on the book, it doesn’t nullify it or just take ideas from it. The issues with Stillson are the mythology of the show. For most shows, the “stand alone” episodes are my favorite. I have to admit though for The Dead Zone, I absolutely adore the mythology episodes.
The show is also magnificently cast. There are many touching moments in the pilot that were acted so beautifully. Everyone in love with a Vancouver show will notice the telltale signs that the first five seasons are filmed in Vancouver. The first season episode were Johnny is almost burned at the stake as a witch is filmed in Fort Langley. Fan girl moment--I ATE AT the diner where Johnny and Bruce decide to get their food “to go”!
Over a matter of a couple weeks I watched all six seasons of The Dead Zone. For the most part, the odd seasons (one, three and five) are heavy on the mythology. The even seasons (two, four and six) are more about character development and are lighter. Seasons 1 and 3 were my favorites. The even seasons generally pick up with the mythology at the end of the season...the same was true for the Sixth Season. It is too bad that the show was cancelled. I would have loved to see where the seventh was going to take us...All in all, a great show to check out! Head over to www.amazon.com to pick up all six seasons very reasonably!
(Screen caps from http://screencapsbest.com)
(Screen caps from http://screencapsbest.com)