TV titan David E. Kelley just won his 11th Emmy award for producing HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” And he could well make it an even dozen next year with his acclaimed adaptation of Stephen King’s 2014 novel “Mr. Mercedes.” Kelley is the executive producer of this new series on the Audience Network, which is available to subscribers of both DirecTV and the AT&T U-verse. While this new network drew audiences with “You Me Her” (a comedy about a polyamorous married couple) and “Kingdom” (a mixed martial arts drama starring Nick Jonas), “Mr. Mercedes” gives the channel both cultural cachet and industry clout.
“Mr. Mercedes” marked a departure for King from his usual horror tropes in favor of a detective mystery, albeit one that opens with a grisly murder. During the economic crisis of 2008, a lunatic in a clown mask driving a Mercedes mows down people lined up for a job fair. Emmy winner Brendan Gleeson (“Into the Storm”) is Bill Hodges, the detective who failed to track down the killer. Two years later, Hodges is now retired and receiving cryptic messages from someone claiming to be the Mercedes driver. That someone turns out to be Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), a disturbed young tech whiz making ends meet at an electronic store and by driving an ice cream truck. Growing bored and agitated by his life, Brady antagonizes the detective and an epic cat-and-mouse game ensues.
A whopping 33 cast members from Kelley’s shows have won Emmys, including Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Alexander Skarsgaard for “Big Little Lies.” In “Mr. Mercedes,” Gleeson and Treadaway are at the top of their craft exploring the emotional turmoil of their characters. The cast of “Mr. Mercedes” also features past Emmy champs Holland Taylor (“The Practice”) and Mary-Louise Parker (“Angels in America”). Taylor is infinitely entertaining as Hodges’ frank and sexually forward neighbor, and Parker turns a rather straightforward character into a compelling tangle of contradictions. Both could easily contend for these featured turns.
Kelley produced “L.A. Law” and created such TV classics as “Picket Fences,” “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice,” “Boston Legal,” and “Boston Public.” He has won nine Emmys for producing and made Emmy history in 1999 when he won both Best Drama Series (“The Practice”) and Best Comedy Series (“Ally McBeal”). His other two Emmys were for writing episodes of “L.A. Law.”
Kelley crafted the screenplays for the first two episodes of “Mr. Mercedes.” The pilot in particular, would make an excellent Emmy submission as he successfully balances the brutality of the opening murders with the more contemplative character study of Hodges and Brady.
Jack Bender has directed the majority of the episodes and his guiding hand gives the series a unified tone, found more often in limited series than ongoing dramas. While Bender won an Emmy as a producer on “Lost,” he lost all three of his directing bids for that hit series (as well as another recent race for “Game of Thrones”). Seeing him back at the helm of another character-driven mystery may appeal to Emmy voters.
Indeed, The Audience Network is poised to be the next network to break out at the Emmys much as Hulu did this year when “The Handmaid’s Tale” claimed Best Drama and seven other Emmys. It was the streaming service’s first time nominated in a top category. Before that, the sole Emmy nomination for a Hulu series was a Supporting Visual Effects bid for “11.22.63” in 2015. “11.22.63” just happens to be another adaptation of a King novel.