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Case Number 03149

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Dead Zone: The Complete First Season

Lionsgate // 2001 // 550 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // August 4th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Dead Zone (published October 2nd, 2000), The Dead Zone: The Complete Second Season (published July 19th, 2004), The Dead Zone: The Complete Third Season (published July 20th, 2005), The Dead Zone: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 12th, 2006), The Dead Zone: The Complete Fifth Season (published July 11th, 2007), The Dead Zone (2002) (published January 14th, 2003), and The Dead Zone: The Final Season (published June 18th, 2008) are also available.

The Charge

"I love you Johnny," she said, and his face lit up like a lamp.
He blew a kiss. "Feel better," he said, "and we'll talk."
She nodded, but it was four-and-a-half years before she talked to Johnny Smith again.

There was the sound of smashing glass. A huge gout of flame stroked its way up into the night. Johnny's head collided with the cab's windshield and knocked it out. Reality began to go down a hole. Pain, faint and far away, in his shoulders and arms as the rest of him followed his head through the jagged windshield. He was flying. Flying into the October night.

Stephen King
"The Dead Zone"

Opening Statement

When I heard that Stephen King's book was going to be made into a television series, I was quite excited. I'm a big fan of King's works, and this title has always been one of my favorites. Fortunately, the film starring Christopher Walken turned out well and is one of the better movies to be made from the author's words. We all know that, for some odd reason, King usually plays far better on paper than on film.

Still, I had high hopes for the television series, and they've been mostly met. The Dead Zone is a well-crafted series that encapsulates King's ideas and expands upon them in a refreshing and honest fashion. Still faithful to the book, The Dead Zone has played with the character of Johnny Smith and made him more than what King envisioned. Johnny is a complex man, working to come to terms with the haunting gift that has been bestowed upon him.

As with all things, it's not a perfect series, but its strengths greatly outweigh the downside. Of course, King purists probably have had a few words about the subtle changes and tweaks that have been made to the storyline.

Facts of the Case

The DVD set contains all 13 episodes from the first season of this show.

"Wheel of Fortune"
Grade: A
Using the same title as the first half of King's tome, the premier episode introduces all the essential elements of the series.

Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall, Edward Scissorhands, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science) is deeply in love with his lifelong sweetheart, Sara (Nicole de Boer, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Cube). They're both teachers in Cleaves Mills, Maine, and everyone knows that one day soon they will be married. On the night the big fair is in town, Johnny is involved in an automobile accident that leaves him in a coma for six years. Then one day, he just wakes up, believing that it was only yesterday he was injured. But life has changed in many ways for Johnny. During his coma, his mother has died, leaving her wealthy estate to the furtive Reverend Eugene Purdy (David Ogden Stiers, M*A*S*H, The Majestic, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion)—thus making him Johnny's legal guardian—and his sweetheart Sara has married another man. Complicating things is the fact that Sara and her husband, Sheriff Walt Bannerman, are parents to Johnny's son, who was conceived on the night of that terrible accident.

But that is just the beginning of the changes with Johnny, for he has developed a remarkable ability to see into people's futures by simply touching them. Doctors believe that his brain has found a way to work around the damage suffered in the car crash; his brain is utilizing a "dead zone" to fulfill its normal functions, and this is the most likely cause of Johnny's remarkable gift. Of course, there is great skepticism about Johnny's talent, but he is able to prove himself and make a believer out of his closest friends.

Johnny's life will never be the same.

"What It Seems"
Grade: C
Johnny's newfound talents are put to use to help capture a serial killer in the area. Newspaper reporter Dana Bright takes an immediate interest, professionally and personally, in the newly minted celebrity.

"Quality of Life"
Grade: B
Trying to regain some small measure of his old life, Johnny, a fan of ice hockey, is asked to help coach the high school team. Johnny discovers that one of the players will suffer heart failure during an upcoming game and works to convince everyone that the boy should stay off the ice.

Johnny's relationship with Reverend Purdy is off to a rocky start. Johnny has never fully trusted the Reverend, and they carefully dance around each other, not knowing how to come to terms with one another. Purdy asks Dana, who is getting closer to Johnny, to keep him in the loop.

Grade: B-
Johnny helps an elderly World War II veteran find a long-lost love. Fifty-five years ago, the two met and fell in love during the war, but she mysteriously disappeared one day. In a series of visions, Johnny learns of their wartime romance and is able to pick up clues as to where she may be today. With the help of Sheriff Bannerman, Johnny believes that he will be able to reunite the two lost lovers.

"Unreasonable Doubt"
Grade: C
In this less-than-impressive iteration of the classic 12 Angry Men, Johnny is summoned to jury duty, and he knows the plaintiff is innocent. It's up to Johnny to convince the other eleven people on the jury that they are wrong in believing him guilty.

"The House"
Grade: B
Johnny begins to have visions about his mother's death. Although Reverend Purdy has told Johnny that she died from a heart attack while she slept, Johnny believes that is a lie and something worse happened. His visions show him the Reverend in a bathroom with blood on him. Recruiting Sheriff Bannerman for an investigation, Johnny eventually confronts Purdy and learns the truth behind his mother's death.

"Enemy Mind"
Grade: B-
While helping Sheriff Bannerman search for a missing girl, Johnny becomes exposed to some illegal drugs. This "Special K" affects Johnny's gift, and he begins to misinterpret his visions.

Grade: B
Blurring the lines of reality and dreams, Johnny finds himself trapped inside a dream/vision where he is leading a version of his life that probably would have occurred had he not been in the car crash. He's married to Sara, he's county commissioner, and he doesn't have his special gift. But Johnny is confused by events and cannot shake the idea that everything is a dream. Being unable to awaken himself, Johnny follows the events as they unfold around him. As this day progresses, weird visions of explosions and badly burned people begin to show up regularly. Johnny knows that something bad is going to happen involving an explosion. But in this dream, people don't believe Johnny. Why is Johnny trapped in this dream? Will there be a real explosion?

"The Siege"
Grade: A
Johnny has a vision of a bank robbery going terribly wrong; being nearby, he quickly walks into the bank moments before the robbery begins in an attempt to prevent anyone from being killed. The situation unfolds as Johnny saw it, but he intercedes and influences events in hopes that the situation can end peacefully.

"Here There Be Monsters"
Grade: C
Johnny and his trainer, Bruce, are taking a little road trip when they make a stop in the small New England town of Hobbs Landing. There, Johnny has a vision and saves a little girl's life. Seeing this, the townsfolk kidnap the two and put Johnny on trial for witchcraft.

"Dinner With Dana"
Grade: A
The delicate dance between Dana and Johnny comes to a conclusion as the two have a romantic dinner at Johnny's (though Dana has somewhat manipulated the details of the date). They've been flirting for weeks now, and Dana is quite taken with Johnny; however Johnny, while finding Dana very attractive and likable, cannot help but withdraw from any potential relationship due to his strong feelings for Sara. As the evening progresses, Johnny's conflicted feelings are personified: Reverend Purdy, Sara, Sheriff Bannerman, Bruce, and so forth visit Johnny. They help him come to terms with the women in his life, and they also warn Johnny about a dangerous man in Dana's life.

Grade: B-
A huge natural disaster is about to strike Maine, and Johnny has a vision of hundreds of people being killed. Johnny deduces that a meteor is going to strike a nearby mountain, causing a fiery explosion that will ripple across the county. As he investigates, people that he is talking with disappear before his eyes; Johnny believes that they will die in the aftermath of the meteor. Believing he can prevent the disaster, Johnny locates the mountain where the meteor will strike. As he hikes around, he becomes injured and finds a cave to keep himself warm until rescuers can find him. There, Johnny has a vision of a Native American, a shaman from the past. Somehow the two are connected, and they can see each other across time. As they find a method of basic communication, Johnny realizes that his vision of the meteor is from the shaman's time. If Johnny can't convey the danger to the shaman, the shaman's people will die and their decedents will never exist.

Grade: A
Johnny has a vision about a tragic fire. When it comes true, his celebrity grows further, bringing much media coverage. Knowing an easy avenue at free media coverage, Congressional candidate Greg Stillson asks his friend Reverend Purdy for an introduction to Johnny. When the two meet, Johnny has various visions of the man's past, learning who the real Stillson is. But worst of all, Johnny has a vision of the future President Stillson's leading to Washington D.C.'s decimation.

The Evidence

The Dead Zone has done surprisingly well on the USA Network, yet I have just learned that the series may not make it back for a third season; that's a shame. The first two seasons—well, two and a half seasons—have been solidly entertaining and better than expected. Maybe it's just on the wrong channel?

While not always coming up with the best stories, the series as a whole works exceptionally well for a few select reasons:

Anthony Michael Hall. Known to millions as the superlative geek from many a John Hughes film, it's been difficult for Hall to break free from this characterization. As I remember him most from Weird Science and Edward Scissorhands—two disparate roles—I never completely pigeonholed him. Nonetheless, Hall's characterization of Johnny Smith has been captivating. Fleshing Johnny out into a man with scars, a man who has many difficulties with his gift, Hall has surprised many viewers with a rich and textured performance. It wasn't uncommon to hear during this first year, "That's Anthony Michael Hall? I didn't even recognize him." It's a wonderful compliment that Hall has been able to embody his character so that people are free to judge him on this performance. Certainly Hall has done much fine work in his young career, yet I would posit that the role of Johnny Smith is his finest work.

David Ogden Stiers / Reverend Eugene Purdy. David Ogden Stiers is not a leading man; he simply doesn't get the top roles in movies or television shows. But, we're all familiar with his brilliant role as Charles Emmerson Winchester the Third from M*A*S*H. In every other role I've happened to see him in, I have always enjoyed his work. I find him to be an excellent supporting actor, and that helps elevate whatever he's in—case in point, his role as Timicin in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Half a Life" makes it one of my favorites. As such, it's hard to pinpoint whether it's Stiers' inspired acting or the writer's delicious approach to the character of Reverend Purdy that I find quite so enjoyable. Though a leading figure in the religious community of the show, Purdy is morally ambiguous. On one hand, he always portrays himself as a devout man with the purest of intentions; on the other, Johnny's interactions with Purdy often make you wonder if Purdy is more immoral and materialistic than he would like one to believe. Combine that ambiguity with a cautious relationship between the two, and it's always an exciting scene when Purdy and Johnny are involved. Over time, I'd like to see more of Purdy, but, if that were to happen, I'd fear we'd lose too much of the fascinating "gray" that's been wrapped around him.

Growth / Story Arc. Readers of the King novel know the fate of Johnny Smith as he attempts to assassinate Greg Stillson, the only action Johnny can think of to prevent him from becoming President and eventually starting a horrific war. In the series, while Stillson is hinted at in the very first episode, he isn't the impetus of Johnny's actions. Mentioned throughout the series and eventually building up to the season one finale, Stillson is one of many examples of how the writing staff used the book as the basis for the show yet found ways to broaden all of the characters and enhance them for episodic television. In a two-hour movie, Johnny Smith only has time to deal with one problem, but now we're allowed to see how Johnny adapts to the ever-increasing weight of celebrity and status. How will Johnny cope with his drastically changed life? How will Johnny interact with Reverend Purdy? How will Johnny acclimate to his new gift? How will Johnny come to terms with the stress of seeing so much death and dismay? The series has slowly built the characters with a subtle arc, and each week we see pieces fall into place—many of which won't be apparent until the following year.

Special Effects. Faithful readers, as many of you know, I'm a sucker for quality effects work. Here, I really enjoy how the series visualizes Johnny's gift. It's clever, though not unique, allowing you to easily understand what is going on and also opening up other areas of exploration for future shows (see season two's episode "Precipitate"). Further, not only are the special effects nicely done, but the overall quality of the show's production is also excellent. It's amazing how well some shows know how to utilize their budget.

Obviously, I enjoy the show and still currently tune into it every Sunday night. The Dead Zone works from an "abbreviated season" of around a dozen shows not allowing it room to grow too old too quickly, but I would appreciate a schedule closer to that of standard network television.

While the show is presented on television in full frame, the DVDs come complete with an anamorphic widescreen print and a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. As with all television shows that I have seen ported to disc, The Dead Zone has but an average transfer. It's not exceptional, yet there are no significant flaws. Colors are accurate with solid definition, blacks are accurate, and sharpness is good. I detected no aliasing, shimmering, pixelization, or other nasty transfer errors to mar the presentation. It's not the most realistic transfer on the market, but I have yet to see a television show that is. On the audio side, again, it's merely an average acoustic presentation with clear dialogue and moderate use of the surrounds and the subwoofer. You'll have no complaints, as there shouldn't be too high of expectations for the audio transfer. But, in saying that, I do always hope for a little more from a 5.1 mix, especially with such a new show. During Johnny's visions, the possibilities for immersive use of the surrounds and bass are easily identifiable yet not capitalized.

Luckily, there are some bonus materials in the sets for one to peruse. While they aren't the deepest or most thorough, I give big kudos to one item in particular: the commentaries. Every episode has a commentary track to offer some additional information on the show. Yes, they are extremely inconsistent, with some being quite good and others being quite boring, I applaud that the effort was made to include a track for every show. Thank you! Also included are four featurettes: "Genesis," "Writing," "Sound and Effects," and "Guest Stars." As with the commentaries, these vignettes are not the most insightful, but you can still catch a few interesting facts along the way. The last bonus items of note are storyboards, which are oddly placed on the discs; I'll allow you the "fun" of finding them on your own. Oh, and if you really want to know, there is a season two preview and a promo montage.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It's a young show with lots of promise, yet not without flaws. Most notable are the definite clunkers in the episodes aired for this first year; there are far too many for a show that only produced 13 hours of programming. As evidenced by my grades, the two worst are "What It Seems" and "Unreasonable Doubt." The former doesn't work simply because the serial killer story itself feels out of place so early in the series, while the latter is a poor episode due to its blatant rehash of the 12 Angry Men storyline. I'll do nothing more than mention the silly witchcraft idea. Even in episodes that work and are interesting, the twists and turns are sometimes a bit too far-fetched—namely the time disparity twist of "Shaman." Also of note is the rather dull and lifeless interpretation of Sheriff Bannerman. Portrayed as an understanding, dedicated, easy-going man, Bannerman is very useful for Johnny yet exceptionally boring and one-dimensional. And then there's Bruce, the only character of color on the show, whom I don't think they did a good job with. Overall, as Johnny's friend, confidant, and guide, Bruce is well crafted, but the show simply tries too hard in portraying him as a true black man, and he comes across a bit caricatured. Oddly, Bruce undergoes a change in season two to "address" this, and the transformation feels wrong too. I guess I'm just never satisfied.

Closing Statement

I've truly enjoyed watching this show over the last two and a half seasons, and I hope that it will be renewed for a third year. Though the amount of press it has seen has dwindled as of late, the show is still as exciting as ever. Filled with great characters portrayed by excellent actors, The Dead Zone is a show that will easily grow and ensnare you with its deceptively simple premise. Though it could have easily become dull and routine with Johnny's visions (anyone remember "mutant of the week" on Smallville?), the writers have continued to come up with creative ways of highlighting Johnny's talent and using it in fresh ways.

I wholeheartedly recommend the television series The Dead Zone to everyone. It's a great show that has not been seen by enough people, and now you have the chance to see what Johnny sees.

The Verdict

The Dead Zone is found not guilty on all charges. Johnny Smith is free to continue using his powers to help those in that oddly accident-prone part of Maine.

Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 90
Acting: 95
Story: 85
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 550 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary on Each Episode
• Featurettes: "Genesis," "Writing," "Sound and Effects," and "Guest Stars"
• Storyboards
• Season Two Preview
• Promo Montage


• IMDb
• Official Site

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Review content copyright © 2003 Eric Profancik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.