Nothing revs up David E. Kelley like a good character piece, and the small-screen guru’s new series, Mr. Mercedes, hums with horror and humanity in its tale of a retired cop and his murderous young arch villain.
Due Aug. 9 on the AT&T Audience Network, available to DirecTV subscribers, the 10-episode first season adapts Stephen King’s modern-day take on the hardboiled detective genre. Brendan Gleeson stars as Bill Hodges, a detective way past his prime who gets his groove back when the psychopathic killer (Harry Treadaway) from a high-profile cold case re-emerges to mock the old man.
“People will come to Mr. Mercedes for the thrills that Stephen King so readily offers and they will stay for the richness and characters,” says Kelley (Big Little Lies), the show’s executive producer.
Hodges is still bothered by the one case he couldn’t solve, a tragedy where innocents waiting to get into a job fair were maimed and murdered by a man in a clown mask who mowed them down in a stolen Mercedes. But that cop’s life is in the rear-view mirror, and much of Hodges’ sedentary existence since then revolves around beer and highly caloric food.
“It’s the story that waits for us all,” Kelley says. Finding meaning in life “is a quest early on and only intensifies as we get older, and it definitely does for Bill Hodges.”
Old wounds are reopened when Hodges begins receiving strange letters, videos and emails with a wicked smiley face from the “Mercedes Killer,” aka Brady Hartsfield (Treadaway), a computer-store clerk who has an incestuous relationship with his mother (Kelly Lynch) and holds down a second job as an ice-cream vendor to keep an eye on Hodges and his associates.
Bill and Brady’s relationship has a Batman/Joker dynamic, and there’s a reality to Brady that makes him much creepier than King’s other literary villains: While the killer car of Christine seems fantastical, it’s not hard to imagine a guy decided to run down job seekers on a whim.
“Obviously that character is very much a monster, but one we’re able to feel for, and that’s no easy trick,” Kelley says of Brady. “You see how he got there and in a way that makes him more terrifying. You’re not able to dismiss him as just an aberrant example of human life.”
For a supporting cast, Hodges has love interest Janey Patterson (Mary-Louise Parker), nosy yet good-hearted neighbor Ida (Holland Taylor) and a pair of crime-solving partners: Jerome Robinson (Jharrel Jerome), Hodges’ teenage lawn mower who happens to be a whip-smart computer whiz; and Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe), a troubled woman with a personal connection to the case.
“In all of them there’s something haunting,” Kelley says. “There’s a vulnerable need for relevance that they search for. It makes them surprisingly human under really extraordinary circumstances.”