The first season of The Dead Zone is a rare debut. Review by S.K. Slevinski

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Based upon the Stephen King novel, which was earlier made into a movie of the same name, The Dead Zone is a subtle and fascinating portrait of its main character in this first season.

The pilot episode of The Dead Zone, included in the first season DVD set, chronicles the turning point in protagonist Johnny Smith's life—after hitting his head in a hockey accident as a child, Johnny receives select visions, but after a traumatic car accident as an adult, the visions intensify, coming strongly and predictably whenever he touches another person, or an object that another person has recently handled. His life is further complicated by the length of his recovery—the injuries he sustained during the car accident leave him in a coma for six years, and when he wakes up, his fiancée is married to another man, his son is being raised as their son, and his mother is dead, her dubious preacher husband the inheritor to her vast fortune. Johnny must mourn his past while dealing with the implications and responsibilities of his new found psychic powers.

The premise for this television series is, admittedly, not terribly original. The cliché of waking up after a coma or memory blank is a well-worn staple of alternative reality stories. The conflict of a main character with super human powers trying to convince others of their veracity and usefulness is also a tired standard. Indeed, some of the more episodic installments of season one showcase predictable consequences of Johnny's new life, such as the episode where he moderates a hostage situation in which his ex-fiancée is one of the hostages. However, even when the episodes and storylines are somewhat predictable, the subtly of the writing and acting bring a surprising dimension to this show. The most impressive character-arch in this show—and luckily its center of gravity—is that of Johnny. On the surface, his storylines often put him in the standard role of the misunderstood, do-gooder psychic, but the collective arch of this show reveals a compelling unity to his conflicts. Much of the credit is due to actor Anthony Michael Hall's nuanced portrayal of Johnny from week to week. He imbues this character with unexpected complexity in what are often expected situations. His portrayal of Johnny deemphasizes the more clichéd elements of this show while playing up the depth and persistent mild torment of this character's life. Johnny's conflict between the solitude enforced by his tactile powers and his natural drive toward human companionship and intimacy is particularly compelling in this first season. Johnny's uneasy negotiation of his relationship with would-have-been stepfather Gene Purdy (David Ogden Stiers) is also one of the highlights of this first season. In terms of DVD offerings, this Season 1 set goes to extra lengths in providing extras, including at least one "making of" type featurette on each of the four discs, as well as commentary tracks on all of the thirteen episodes.

The team and cast of The Dead Zone make the best of a tired premise in season one, giving clichéd conflicts believability and taking the speculative concepts as an occasion for character exploration.

S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.