Number 15: Brimstone
When the wife of decorated New York cop Ezekiel Stone is raped, he follows his own path of vengeance. Tracking down the perpetrator of the vile act, he murders him in cold blood. Two months later, in the course of chasing down a small-time thief, he is gunned down; when his soul is judged, despite his protestations, he is damned to hell where he languishes for next fifteen years. When the unthinkable happens, and 113 of Hell’s most vile and corrupt inmates escape back to Earth, The Devil offers Zeke a deal; track down the escaped souls and return them to Hell and earn a second chance at life, but fail and be damned for the rest of eternity.
‘Brimstone’ is, in large part, a cop show and like all the best cop shows it is the dynamic between the leads that makes interesting and compelling viewing. Stone himself, played by Peter Horton, is a traditional burned out cop, world weary and stoic; the interesting twist with ‘Brimstone’ is the mechanic of The Devil himself, who acts as his partner as he tracks down the errant souls. Played by John Glover, whose face is instantly recognisable from a huge catalogue of supporting roles, he is as much a hindrance to Zeke as he is a help, offering cryptic advice, withholding useful information and endless sarcastic criticism. In one of the shows more unusual twists, he frequently chastises Zeke and wonders whether the evil souls that he is tracking would make better servants. It is an interesting spin on the traditional Faustian pact and makes for fun, if occasionally repetitive, viewing. Like many similar shows, the cast is small but rounded out by recurring guest stars, most notably the underappreciated Lori Petty, as hotel owner Maxine, Teri Polo in a duel role as lead escapee Ashur Badaktu and Zeke’s ex-colleague Detective Ash, and Stacy Haiduk, as Zeke’s wife Rosalyn.
Like other shows further up this list, ‘Brimstone’ was ended by its American network far too early. During its short run it established a solid mythology based on selective passages from the Christian Bible, and set about establishing the rules of its world; sadly, its cancellation meant that a variety of things were set up that were never allowed the opportunity to grow to fruition. The central conceit of a good man forced to commit evil acts for a greater good elegantly mirrors Zeke’s initial crime, and the concept of original sin is something that echoes across the series. It also deals with the murky issue of The Devil himself as the season draws to a close with the introduction of an angel, also brought to life by John Glover; by introducing the conflicting presence of good and evil as the same person, the concept of hypocrisy and duality is brought into the mix, and Zeke’s struggle with just who exactly he is working for would clearly have been one of the central pillars of subsequent seasons. The nature of greater good and the suggestion that God and The Devil may, in fact, be the same thing from different angles is well trodden ground but nonetheless engaging for it. When Zeke’s wife Rosalyn becomes a recurrent figure the series shows some surprising emotional depth; a love interest in the form of a key villain allows the opportunity for the character to evolve further as he is torn between the man he was and the man he must become to regain his life.
Due to failing ratings, ‘Brimstone’ was cancelled by Fox during ongoing production. As a result, fans will never get even a reasonable conclusion to the story of Ezekiel Stone and, despite the best efforts of the production team, a loyal fanbase and John Glover himself, it has yet to even get the DVD treatment. A real shame, as it is an entertaining show with an interesting spin on its central conceit, solid performances and the beginnings of a solid mythology.