Fifteen years ago, conscientious New York cop Ezekiel Stone (Peter Horton) avenged the rape of his wife by killing her attacker in cold blood.  After his own death in the line of duty, Stone went to Hell for his transgression-until a mass jailbreak unleashed 113 of the most vile creatures ever to walk the planet, all possessing newfound supernatural powers.  Now, the Devil promises the good-hearted Stone heavenly redemption in exchange for his bounty-hunting skills.  And Stone sets out to fulfill his diabolical mission.

Though the Devil can’t be beat, even he answers to a higher power.  If Stone fails to round up the errant minions, there’s Hell to pay in the underworld, and the price is eternal fire and BRIMSTONE.

–Press Kit for BRIMSTONE, 1998

The Devil and the Dead

BRIMSTONE is a perfect case study in how networks kill a show.  When FOX announced their upcoming schedule for the Fall of 1998, Brimstone was given a plum spot on Tuesdays at 9/8 central.  This showed at least a degree of confidence in the show, and a willingness to not bury something “different” in the “death slot”.

That didn’t last long.  Neither did the show.

Before it even aired an episode, FOX decided that the show would be a “better fit” on Friday nights.  So a show about escapees from Hell got dragged back to the Hell that is the “death slot”.  How…. appropriate.

Cops and detectives have been on TV as long as the medium has existed, it seems.  But none of them ever had the Devil for a boss.  Peter Horton plays the poor damned soul Ezekiel Stone, returned to earth to chase down Hell’s fugitives.  His body is covered with numerous odd tattoos, which each represent the name of an escapee (in the language of Hades, of course).  Each episode, the Devil himself (played with delicious mischief by John Glover) would show up unannounced to give Stone a cryptic clue to his next assignment.  These assignments included finding everyone from the guy who had originally raped his wife, to an ancient soul trying to overthrow the eternal arrangement between Heaven and Hell, between God and Lucifer.

The longer a soul had existed in Hell, the stronger it was in “our” world.  Stone himself was slightly augmented by this as well, as he couldn’t die by mortal means.  So, jumping off buildings (of ANY height) was no problem… the broken legs would heal quickly, but that would still stop a chase cold until the healing occurred.  Confrontations with the other damned souls, however, could still cause damage and pain, even more so (essentially “fighting fire with fire”).

Once found, Stone would attempt to dispatch each escaped soul by destroying their eyes (the explanation being that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”).  The essence of their eternal souls would be dragged back down to hell, and the body would simply disappear into the ether, leaving no trace or evidence… and the tattoo would disappear as well (again, causing Stone significant pain.  That ole Devil…). Another escapee captured–if Stone returns all 113 back to Hell, the Devil has promised to give him a second chance on Earth… and maybe the chance to reconnect with his wife, who was still living, 15 years after Stone’s “death”, and unaware that he had “returned”.

Lest all this sound too depressing, the show actually had some moments of levity.  Realize that this was actually the LIGHTER of the two shows that FOX was airing on Friday nights at the time!  The other show was Millennium, from X-Files creator Chris Carter, which was trying to be darker than X-Files was….

Since the Devil doesn’t pay very well (and it’s kind of hard to get work when you’re legally dead!), Stone was close to broke most of the time… his “income” was the amount of money he had on his person on the day he “died”.. just $36.27 a day.  The Devil actually provided him with a car at one point… and he would have been better off with a vehicle from the Stephen King novels (Stone actually nicknames the car “Christine” at one point).  There was also a recurring character named Maxine (played by Lori Petty) who was the desk clerk at the fleabag hotel where Stone lived… which led to exchanges like this:  Desk Clerk: “Your room’s upstairs. The elevator’s broken, you’ll have to walk, but it’s only three floors.”  Ezekiel: “As long as I’m going up…”

Stone had “died” in 1983, and the show took place 15 years later, so there was also the opportunity for many “fish out of water” jokes. Stone sees the Cardinals and the Yankees playing baseball on TV, and comments that it must be the World Series. After being informed that it’s “interleague play” (which didn’t exist in ’83), someone asks him why he’s never heard of it. “I’ve been out of the country.” he replies. “Oh, where?” “Down under…”

My body contains their names

There was an extended mythology (besides the 113 escapees) on the show as well.  A recurring “villain” was introduced (yes, there’s another actual villain, even though Lucifer himself is a regular!) Who could be worse?  The soul who actually masterminded the breakout.  Also, there were (obviously) some interesting moral questions addressed concerning good vs. evil, intent vs. action, and the whole Judeo-Christian idea of Heaven/Hell vs. other possible interpretations of the afterlife.

No wonder FOX executives really didn’t “get it”.

Those executives couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do with this show.  Really, they couldn’t.  Originally scheduled for Tuesdays, the premiere was delayed (due to the World Series, ironically) and then finally scheduled to air in the Friday 8/7 slot, debuting fully a month after almost every other new and returning show (and being lost in the shuffle by then).  The original order was for 13 episodes, but FOX apparently thought enough of the show at one point that they ordered six more… and then literally shut down production 3 hours after shooting had begun on the 14th episode.

The aired order of the episodes is NOT the producers’ preferred viewing order, either, which is another strike against FOX’s treatment of the series.  The SyFy and Chiller cable channels have occasionally aired this show as part of their weekday block marathons, but there are no consistent airings at present.  Nor is it yet available on DVD, although numerous bootleg copies are available (thankfully).

Fans willing to continue the story of Stone, Lucifer, and the 113 escapees are recommended to visit The Brimstone Virtual Seasons–fan written stories that continue the mythos of the series… including, if you read to the end, what actually happens between the Devil and Stone when the final soul is recovered.  Also, if you want to know what the creators of the show had planned for those other six episodes that never got filmed, creator Cyrus Voris actually posted synopses of those scripted episodes online as well.

PETER HORTON (Ezekiel Stone) had originally gained fame from the ABC series Thirty-Something, and was truly looking for something “as diametrically opposed to that role, to redefine himself as an actor” when he took the role of Ezekiel Stone.

JOHN GLOVER (The Devil) is best known to genre fans these days as having played daddy villain Lionel Luthor in the CW series Smallville.

Creator/producers Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff were most recently in charge of the 2009 CBS series The Eleventh Hour.  Probably the most successful (or at least prolific) person to come out of the show’s staff was executive story editor Scott Williams, who went on to produce shows such as Third Watch, Crossing Jordan, Without a Trace, and most recently, Bones.

We leave with a quote from creators Voris and Reiff:

Off to save souls

“Our show says that the universe works.  If a guy commits a murder, even if you think he gets off–he will be punished.  There is justice in the universe.  If you live a good life, you go to Heaven.  If you’re a scumbag, no matter what happens to you on Earth, you go to Hell.  What this show is about is the one anomaly, this breakout, and it has to be fixed.  BRIMSTONE proposes a very hopeful message:  The universe works.”

Vital stats:

13 aired episodes – no unaired episodes exist
FOX network
First airdate:  October 23, 1998
Last airdate: February 12, 1999
Actually aired at Friday, 8/7 Central?:  yes

As usual, comments welcome.

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