“Locke and Key” began life as a horror comic book at IDW in 2008, written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. The series has since been collected in six books that contain the entire saga.
After a number of false starts, Netflix gained the rights to adapt “Locke and Key” and dropped the entire first season of 10 episodes on Feb. 7. But while the original comics are largely horror-driven, the TV show emphasizes the fantasy elements, and adds a ton of coming-of-age hoo-ha. TV “Locke and Key” gets creepy occasionally — usually thanks to Laysla De Oliveira’s character Dodge — but it isn’t nearly as scary as comics “Locke and Key.”
Netflix made some other changes from the comics worth mentioning — some minor, and explicable. Some not. For example, in the comics there are two characters who murder (spoiler!), whereas on TV there is only one. That’s understandable, as a means to streamline the story.
And it’s easy to write off the change in venues, too. In the comics, the Locke family starts in San Francisco before moving to Lovecraft, Mass. On TV, they begin in Seattle and move to Matheson, Mass. It’s a mystery why the show felt the need to make those changes (aside from altering “Lovecraft,” which is a bit too on the nose), but not an important one.
But there’s one other change that is utterly baffling: In the comics, Mother Locke has a problem that forces the kids — who are the stars, of course — to step up and take charge of the narrative. But the TV show removes that problem until almost the end of Season 1, negating its usefulness to the story. So why include it at all? ’Tis a puzzlement.
What’s not puzzling is the great job by Connor Jessup as high school senior Tyler Locke and Emilia Jones as teenage Kinsey Locke. Even Jackson Robert Scott, as preteen Bode Locke, pulls his weight. I’ve just about had my fill of coming-of-age stories, but these young actors were likable enough to engage my interest — and sympathy.
Or maybe those characters feel so fresh because the show manages to free them from decades of predictable teen-angst cliché.
Normally in a story like this, the lead male will be a supersmart, somewhat alienated kid whose peers think he’s weird (e.g., Peter Parker). And any athlete will be a jerk who bullies the sensitive lead. Not in “Locke and Key,” where Tyler is a jock (he plays hockey), but isn’t a jerk. He’s neither supersmart nor sensitive (that seems to be Bode’s job), but is a decent guy dealing with unimaginable trauma.
Meanwhile, sister Kinsey gets to toss away the traditional Ally Sheedy introvert act by magically removing her fear from her head. As a character who is quite literally fearless, she ends up almost an action hero, albeit one who makes impulsive, disastrous decisions.
All in all, I still have to go with the traditional “the book was better” stance. But Netflix’s “Locke and Key” is still well worth watching — it will remind you a bit of “Stranger Things,” although falling a bit short of that show’s awesomeness.