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Television Review

A&E’s ‘Bag of Bones’ is mostly empty

Adaptation of King novel is too obvious

Pierce Brosnan plays a husband haunted by the loss of his wife - and by the presence of William Schallert and his spooky caretaker Deborah Grover. Pierce Brosnan plays a husband haunted by the loss of his wife - and by the presence of William Schallert and his spooky caretaker Deborah Grover. (PHOTOS BY CHRIS REARDON)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / December 9, 2011
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A&E’s “Bag of Bones’’ is very “Boo!’’ Every time something scary is about to happen in this two-part adaptation of the 1998 Stephen King novel, the soundtrack jolts you upright with blaring horns, heavy strings, and creepy choral sounds. It’s the orchestral version of “Boo!’’ and it’s about as effective as the laugh track on “2 Broke Girls.’’ Which is to say that the “Bag of Bones’’ soundtrack is not at all effective, and it actually makes what’s on screen seem less frightening.

And there are other subtlety problems with this miniseries, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. With due respect to King, whose novel was adapted by screenwriter Matt Venne and director Mick Garris, setting the story on Dark Score Lake in Maine is not just telegraphing the theme - it’s sharing the theme in urgent mass e-mails around the world. Dark Score Lake is where novelist Mike Noonan (Pierce Brosnan) moves to grieve his wife and face his writer’s block. There, of course, lurks an old, dark score that needs to be settled in the course of four hours (“Bag of Bones’’ concludes Monday at 9).

Brosnan, whose Irish accent is never explained, plays Mike as an ordinary guy who is grieving his wife (Annabeth Gish) and not particularly freaked out about having violent visions and getting random communications from ghosts, including the ghost of a 1930s blues singer (Anika Noni Rose). Those communications arrive via a bell around the neck of a stuffed moosehead over the fireplace, an antique phonograph in the basement, and the magnetic letters on the lake house refrigerator, which rearrange themselves before his very eyes. No, Brosnan underplays throughout.

But he is surrounded by characters who are as obvious as the soundtrack, not least of all the nefarious Max Devore, who is played by veteran actor William Schallert (from “The Patty Duke Show’’ and almost every TV show ever). From his wheelchair, he snickers childishly with evil intent, while his caretaker, Rogette (Deborah Grover), stands by his side wearing too much ghoulish makeup and mile-high Marge Simpson hairstyle. Rogette resembles Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of “Rebecca,’’ which has to be intentional, since “Bag of Bones’’ contains a few somewhat pointless “Rebecca’’ references. Together, Max and Rogette are like the cartoon characters Boris and Natasha.

At Dark Score Lake, Mike meets a potential new love, a cheerful young widow Mattie (Melissa George), who is oddly familiar with him from the get-go. He responds in kind, sharing intimate details of his life, including the fact that his next novel will actually be an old novel he couldn’t sell. Their relationship is like the Wikipedia version of their relationship, as they don’t bother with details or substance. That might take a few interesting, sensitively written scenes, of which there are none in this miniseries. Even the story’s central violent event, which arrives in part 2, is handled without any emotional impact or logic. Like everything else in A&E’s “Bag of Bones,’’ it is hollow and - boo! - not scary.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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BAG OF BONES Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Melissa George, Annabeth Gish, William Schallert, Jason Priestley

On: A&E

Time: Sunday and Monday nights, 9-11