(CNN) – As is so often the case with Stephen King adaptations, “Castle Rock” — an original Hulu series, stitched together from the author’s multi-verse — looks better on paper. Name-checking and drawing inspiration from various King works, the J.J. Abrams-produced show boasts a gaudy cast (some with King connections), but proves enamored with atmosphere while failing to scare up a compelling story.
Castle Rock — the small Maine town that provided the setting for various King books and stories, including “The Dead Zone,” “Cujo” and “Needful Things” — is infused with gothic horrors. It’s a place where a character (Terry O’Quinn) says in a narrated reference to his own house, “Every inch is stained with someone’s sin.”
Alas, the main sin in “Castle Rock,” the 10-episode series, is that it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, as it gradually introduces an eclectic group of eccentric characters.
That includes the return of prodigal son, Henry Deaver (“Moonlight’s” Andre Holland), an attorney drawn into a case that involves a mysterious inmate (Bill Skarsgard) being held at Shawshank (yes, that Shawshank) prison.
Unlike most dramas, there’s an intriguing senior skew to the cast, which includes the aforementioned O’Quinn, Sissy Spacek (as Deaver’s adoptive mother) and Scott Glenn, playing the retired sheriff.
As noted, the casting has King nostalgia woven into it, inasmuch as Skarsgard played the killer clown in the recent “It” adaptation, while Spacek reaches all the way back to one of King’s earliest screen forays, “Carrie.”
Yet other than the pervasive sense of dread, of evil, that permeates the town, there’s little sense (after four previewed episodes) as to where “Castle Rock” is heading, and the frequent nods and winks toward existing King canon — if a bit of a kick at first for fans of something like “The Shawshank Redemption” — pretty quickly begin yielding diminishing returns, and a dearth of redemptive qualities.
In a broader sense, the series comes at an interesting time for Hulu, which has broken through as never before with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” yet whose future marching orders have been somewhat clouded by the pending acquisition of 21st Century Fox entertainment assets by Disney, bringing two of the streaming service’s corporate owners under one roof.
Thanks to the box-office success of “It,” the timing could hardly be better to have a new series with a King connection. But the creative track record of King adaptations has at best been a spotty one in movies and TV, and despite its enviable pedigree and somewhat novel underlying concept, “Castle Rock” looks destined to take its place in the lower tier of that densely populated filmography.
“Castle Rock” premieres July 25 on Hulu.