“Glory Days”: Do You Remember Kevin Williamson’s Small Screen, Small Town Murder-Mystery? [TV Terrors]

Horror and science fiction have always been a part of the television canvas, and constant attempts have been made over the years to produce classic entertainment. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others became mainstream phenomena. With “TV Terrors,” we take a look back at the many genre efforts from the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, exploring some shows that became cult classics, and others that sank into obscurity.

This month we head back to the early 2000s to re-live Kevin Williamson‘s “Glory Days.”

  • Aired in 2002
  • Aired on The WB Network

Kevin Williamson managed to help re-invent the slasher sub-genre in 1996 with Wes Craven’s horror masterpiece Scream. For years after, his brand of teen thrills became commonplace for mainstream horror. In 1998 Williamson took his talents to television as he helped re-invent the teen drama with the pop culture smash “Dawson’s Creek.” However in 2002, Williamson’s clout in Hollywood had somewhat weakened. He’d given up Scream writing duties, and his newest film (I personally like Teaching Mrs. Tingle) and television efforts somewhat floundered.

With the WB Network anxious to create much edgier entertainment, Williamson ultimately helped create the murder-mystery thriller “Glory Days.” A mid-season television replacement, “Glory Days” is a peculiar project in Williamson’s oeuvre. According to the reports from Entertainment Weekly at the time, “Glory Days” was originally filmed and conceived as a melodrama very much in the same vein as “Dawson’s Creek.” But Warner and the WB Network were in the market for darker fare at the time, and so Williamson was asked to completely retool the series into a classic murder-mystery set in a small town.

It would only make sense that the man who re-invented both the slasher and the teen drama would be the one to come on board and re-invent the murder-mystery. Right? Sadly, while the series brought with it considerable ambition and a great gallery of character actors, “Glory Days” barely made it through the first season. 

The story unfolds when washed-up novelist Mike Dolan (Eddie Cahill of ”CSI: NY”) returns to his hometown of Glory, a place where ”weird’s gone on overtime” thanks to a disturbing rash of pranks, break-ins, and bizarre murders. Eager to find the truth behind his dad’s ”accidental” death, Mike teams with comely coroner and often impromptu investigative partner Ellie (Poppy Montgomery), and inexperienced sheriff (and old school friend) Rudy Dunlop (Jay Ferguson of “Twin Peaks”). Together, they solve the many mysteries of his eerie island. 

Mike, meanwhile, has to deal with his bitter past, as well as the tension between his mom Mitzi and his dad’s former lover (and restaurant owner) Hazel, both of whom commute in Glory. When his mom Mitzi and sister Sara (Amy Stewart) inherit their dad’s old newspaper, the Glory Gazette, Mike is hired as a head reporter, and his sleepy small town offers more horrors than he bargained for. 

Co-starring were Frances Fisher (as mom Mitzi), Theresa Russell (as Hazel Walker), and (a very young) Emily VanCamp (as Mike’s little sister Sam). 2002 seemed the prime time for a brand new series in the tradition of “Columbo” or “Kolchak,” and the WB certainly hoped to set the stage for a mystery franchise that appealed more toward the “younger male” sensibility. 

”Look at the success of ‘CSI’ and how it skews younger,” said WB Entertainment president Jordan Levin at the time. ”We definitely want to play an edge.” Williamson remarked that the show “is a hybrid. All those great murder mysteries. Shakespeare did murder mysteries. And Agatha Christie — everyone uses her. And there’s David Kelley and his Rome, Wisconsin– everything happened in that small town. There’s ‘X-Files,’ ‘Northern Exposure,’ ‘The Hardy Boys,’ ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ a little of ‘Dawson’s,’ a little ‘Scream.’”

Williamson’s series definitely owes a lot to “Hardy Boys,” “X-Files” and “Northern Exposure,” building a lot of its episodes around this seemingly quaint town where so much inexplicable chaos ensues. Among some of the noted exploits in the short lived series, Mike, Ellie, and Sheriff Rudy confront a seductive fortune teller (Krista Allen) who inexplicably predicts a rash of kidnappings involving local teenage girls. There’s the mysterious case of a psychotic clown who’s beheading locals and performers with a large machete. And one of the better episodes involves a trio of young girls that claim to be vampires who arrive in town just as Mike’s little sister Sam discovers a body in a lake, drained of its blood. 

Although the first season of “Glory Days” seemed to be setting itself up for a more fluid, episodic formula, every episode was basically a “bad guy of the week” mystery that was usually wrapped up by the finale. It becomes fairly repetitive after episode three, especially when all of the side characters are developed around Mike and his mystery solving. Usually during the whodunit narrative, Sam (VanCamp) gets kidnapped, stalked, or trapped, Mike and Ellie evoke heavy sexual tension, Sheriff Dunlop works hard to prove himself as an underdog, and side characters are introduced as red herrings; and never seen again after the episode ends. 

It’s not particularly cerebral, but it’s fodder with enough cheese to entertain forgiving genre geeks. The cast are very good in their respective roles, especially Cahill and Montgomery who have surefire friction and spend so much time sparring intellectually. Despite the solid suspense per episode, the biggest problem with the show as a whole is that Williamson gives Mike Dolan a purpose, but the whole series’ run never tackles it. Mike is in Glory to investigate his dad’s mysterious death, and we only really hear about it in the pilot and never again. There’s also no recurring villain or antagonist who gives our heroes a hard time, nor is there a larger presence that may or may not have had a hand in the death of Mike’s father. 

The series is never given enough time to begin developing the all encompassing arc and primary drive for hero Mike, which is pretty much the ingredient that holds the series back. Most of Williamson’s self aware meta-humor is also missing in favor of a sterner tone with gallows humor sprinkled in here and there. Mike’s younger sister Sara, who owns the Glory Gazette, also has little to nothing to do in the series, with no real active role as Mike’s boss. She’s reduced to playing off of Fisher as a doting daughter, rather than Mike’s adversary. Additionally the writers seem to be leading up to a big twist of perhaps Mike’s sister Sam and her boyfriend Zane actually being half brother and sister; it’s constantly hinted at, without any pay off. 

“Glory Days” was a bust as a mid-season replacement, only lasting about nine episodes (of an originally planned thirteen) before being yanked off the network and replaced by “Felicity.” Although the cast went on to bigger, better projects, “Glory Days” never really found new life in syndication like other genre series; it just disappeared altogether from the WB Network. The series did pick up some steam in foreign markets like Germany as “Demontown,” with a few episodes even being edited together as a series of made for TV movies.

I wouldn’t say “Glory Days” was ahead of its time; it’s entertaining but clunky, and often silly, but Williamson’s stab at the mystery/sleuth series is admirable, and deserved a second shot. With a ton of retooling, “Glory Days” could have found its place on the WB roster, especially as darker, more adult genre fare soon became the bread and butter for the network with series like “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Diaries.”

Is It On DVD/Blu-ray? “Glory Days” is only available on Region 2/PAL DVD with its alternate/international title “Demontown.” You can also buy the complete series on Region 1 DVD-R in various online bootleg stores. All nine episodes can be found uncut on YouTube in decent quality.

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