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'NOS4A2,' Based on the Novel, Arrives on AMC
June 2, 2019  | By David Hinckley

NOS4A2, the awkwardly named new psychodrama on AMC, takes a risk and makes it work.

NOS4A2, which launches Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, after the season premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, takes the slow-build path of the Joe Hill novel on which it is based.

That doesn’t always work on television where viewers often demand more intense setup drama fast. Here, the first hour methodically starts arranging the pieces of the puzzle, letting the clouds slowly roll in and darken the sky.

That takes us to two out-of-the-way places, where the story’s two primary – and, at first, seemingly disparate – elements begin to unfold.

Somewhere in Iowa, a young boy named Daniel is lured into a car by a creepy man with a candy cane and the promise of Christmas gifts.

Soon Daniel is locked inside, watching his mother as the car pulls away. The driver is one Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto), who doesn’t frighten the boy at first, but whom we immediately recognize as the incarnation of evil.

Exactly what form that incarnation takes, well, we’ll likely find that out as we go along. When Charlie tells Daniel he’s going to Christmasland, where life is happy for all boys and girls all the time, that’s sort of a broad clue that maybe it isn’t.

While this weird and disturbing scene is unfolding in the heartland, we spend even more time in Haverhill, Mass., where high school senior Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) lives with her parents, Linda (Virginia Kull) and Chris (Ebon Moss-Bachrach).

It’s not exactly idyllic at the McQueen place. Linda, who cleans houses for a living, sees no reason Vic should waste her time with any dreams of going to college or art school, where her talent could easily take her. She’ll graduate and clean houses with Mom, says Linda. End of discussion

Chris supports Vic’s dreams. Unfortunately for Vic, Chris has other issues, like drinking and taking up with girls not much older than Vic.

So while Vic and Chris have a deep bond, he isn’t necessarily the most potent ally.

It doesn’t help that Vic’s best friend Bing (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) runs with an elite crowd, which occasionally brings Vic into contact with obnoxious, entitled rich kids who, at best, patronize her.

Trapped in this frustrating and seemingly dead-end world, at least through the end of school, Vic takes long high-speed trail rides through the local woods on one of her father’s motorcycles.

One day on one of those rides, a weird thing happens. At first, she’s not sure what it is, or what to make of it. She certainly has no idea where it’s going to take her, and even we viewers can’t be sure. Here again, we all have to trust the slow burn.

NOS4A2 creator Jami O’Brien has done something smart by giving us an awful bad guy and juxtaposing his horrible act with what could be a perfectly normal, almost pastoral high school coming-of-age drama.

Cummings catches Vic perfectly, putting us on her side from the first moments and giving the show a character whose future we care about. With what seems to lie ahead, she will likely need plenty of support.

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