The small fishing villages of Maine are the fertile hunting grounds for many a Stephen King novel, so it’s no surprise that Syfy’s newest original series, Haven, which is very loosely based on King’s The Colorado Kid, should also be set on this coastline.
Written by Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn, who previously collaborated on another Stephen King series, USA’s The Dead Zone, Haven (Syfy, Fridays at 10 p.m.) revolves around a seemingly idyllic town that is actually a sanctuary for those afflicted with rare supernatural abilities, a haven for those individuals whose lives have been ripped apart by forces beyond their control or understanding.
“ Twin Peaks was a very weird show,” says co-creator Ernst. “We’re trying to be a little more grounded than that.”
Its tranquility and secrets are threatened by the arrival of FBI Agent Audrey Parker ( Brothers & Sisters’ Emily Rose) who, while in pursuit of an escaped convict, encounters not only a startling series of inexplicable occurrences in Haven, but also a connection to her own past. The result is an eerie and atmospheric blend of procedural and serialized elements, as Audrey begins to uncover the truth about the supernatural goings-on within Haven and the unsolved mystery of the so-called Colorado Kid.
It’s Audrey’s unknown history—she’s an orphan with no knowledge of her parents—that connects Haven to its source material, King’s whisper-thin period novella The Colorado Kid, which revolves around the discovery of an unidentified corpse in a small Maine town, a story that’s recounted by the local paper’s veteran editors to a young summer intern. While the mystery surrounding Audrey’s parents connects to The Colorado Kid’s central narrative in a nudge-nudge kind of way, Haven is otherwise a complete departure from King’s original plot. (Though the producers said to look for the book’s protagonist, Stephanie McCann, to turn up later in the season.)
The novella may be slight, but according to writer/producer Sam Ernst it’s definitely not “pulp.”
“My grandfather, Bruno Fischer, was a pulp fiction writer who supported the family doing it,” said Ernst. “ The Colorado Kid veers off the path of pure pulp fiction, which is not a bad thing because a lot of pulp fiction can be very predictable. The Colorado Kid is extremely not predictable. This is a story about the fact that you have to accept that not all mysteries can be tied up with a bow. We stuck with the idea that there are mysteries in small towns that don’t always have simple answers.”
Ernst and Dunn say that King gave the duo his blessing and has signed off on scripts and rough cuts along the way and Syfy President Dave Howe said that they would be positioning Haven as being based on The Colorado Kid, despite the dissimilarity between the two works.
“Stephen is very keen and very involved in the series,” said Howe. “We’ve taken the essence of The Colorado Kid and the production team has extrapolated the essence of it into something which is more series-capable. The positioning line is ‘It takes a village to hide a secret.’ It’s very much about this community and on a weekly basis you’ll start to unravel some of those secrets and explore the textures of this small town in Maine.”
(King, meanwhile, would not comment on this story.)
Still, expectations are high, given that the series is based on a work by one of the most deified literary figures of our time. The executive producers say that King is also two very different storytellers in one: a gifted horror writer and a novelist who focuses on everyday people who get caught up in extraordinary situations.
“We picked a middle ground,” said Ernst. “We’re not severing heads; we’re not really going the full horror way. We’re really all about normal people whose lives go sideways.”
That ethos would seem to fit in with Syfy’s new brand identity and place the series comfortably alongside the channel’s other offerings such as Eureka and Warehouse 13, both science-fiction dramas with comedic elements that, like Haven, are set in small towns where the ordinary and fantastical collide frequently.
“We’re not as light as, say, Eureka,” Ernst continued. “ X-Files structurally was a model for us but their tone was different. We like more humor and we’re less about monsters.”
“We obviously want to be true to Stephen King… but we also have to make sure that it works with the Syfy perspective,” said Howe. “We challenge our audience to look at things and see an alternative reality, a different perspective on the present… We want to play in a broad-skewing, appealing, and relatable space.”
Which makes it all the more imperative that the audience have a relatable entry-point to the series in Rose’s Audrey Parker.
“This story for the entire series is Audrey’s quest for her connection to this place and to herself,” said Dunn. “Her sense of who she is and where she comes from. We’re going to hit that very hard. We have some big things we’re going to get into at the end of this first season that will set up that journey for the rest of the series.”
While Audrey’s quest in Haven is of a personal and professional nature, part of the show’s broad appeal might also lay in the heroine’s romantic journey as Audrey finds herself almost immediately caught in a love triangle with Lucas Bryant’s local cop, Nathan Wuornos, and local bad boy, Duke Crocker (Eric Balfour). But Audrey has more on her mind than just romance, a relief for Rose.
“Very well-written, strong roles for women are more of a recent uprising,” said Rose. “When I was entering the world of acting, I was really faced with how I was going to get people to take me seriously [as an actor] with this all-American, girl-next-door, blond-haired, blue-eyed [look]. How am I not going to just end up in everybody’s bed?”
As for Rose herself, she’s no stranger to the weird, having appeared on HBO’s short-lived David Milch mind trip, John From Cincinnati. Rose played Cass, a woman who was hired by Luke Perry’s character to pose as a filmmaker and seduce a married pro surfer. (Don’t ask.)
“For some reason, I tend to find home in weird and quirky,” said Rose, laughing.
But a lot of the weirdness won’t turn up until the series’ second episode, where a glimpse of truth about the town of Haven is revealed and Audrey learns about the residents’ various supernatural abilities. While local cop Nathan is impervious to pain, another can seemingly control the weather, causing a gust that blows a man off a cliff in the pilot.
As for the afflictions themselves, they connect to the characters’ inner turmoil. “We do stick with thematic throughlines,” said Ernst. “There is a reason we picked that affliction for that person… A lot of times we try to tie that to the story of our leads and what’s going on with them.”
But there’s also a good deal of time also spent on the role of the outsider coming into a closed and rather spooky community. Just as FBI Agent Dale Cooper once took at trip through the Northwest Passage up to a sleepy town in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks, so too does Rose’s federal agent encounter a haunting quality in a seemingly peaceful berg.
“People have asked us, are we X-Files, are we Twin Peaks, because it’s set in a small town,” said Ernst. “ Twin Peaks was a very weird show. It’s not that we don’t have weirdness. It’s just a lot of Twin Peaks’ weirdness was weirdness for weirdness’ sake. We’re trying to be a little more grounded than that.”
In other words, don’t expect any log ladies, dancing dwarves, or bow-tie-clad giants who live in trans-dimensional black lodges.
“That’s an excellent idea, actually,” joked Ernst. “I’m going to write that down.”
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment websites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.