Thursday, June 20, 2024

Chucky’s First Season Is A Complicated And Mixed Bag

Share This Post

Spoilers for Chucky the series, and the Child’s Play franchise as a whole. Trigger warnings for death, murder, and mutilation.

Now that Chucky, a joint production between the SyFy and USA networks has finished airing its first season, there’s a lot to discuss on what it got right, wrong, and where it can improve. Don Mancini, the writer of the previous films served as showrunner to the show which serves as a continuation of the classic film franchise.

Now, TV shows based on horror franchises aren’t exactly new. Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street both had shows in the heydays of their franchises, more recently there was a Scream show, and an I Know What You Did Last Summer ran on Amazon more or less at the same time as Chucky.

However, Chucky still stands out as a fairly unique beast for one specific reason. It’s a continuation. Friday and Nightmare‘s shows were anthologies, piggybacking as much off of Tales From The Crypt and Are You Afraid Of The Dark as they were their respective franchises. Meanwhile, the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer series were both remakes/reimaginings of their respective movies.

In sharp contrast, Chucky is the next step in the overall Child’s Play franchise. Not a remake, or an alternate universe, but a sequel to 2017’s excellent Cult of Chucky. That’s right, with the exception of that one Mark Hamill film, this movie follows the continuity of all previous Child’s Play and Of Chucky movies.

Is this good, bad, or just okay? Well, let’s talk about it.

The Story So Far

The Child’s Play franchise is the story of Charles Lee Ray, aka Chucky (played by Brad Dourif, making him the only Slasher icon from the 80s to have only been played by one person to this very day). He’s a serial killer from the 80s who learned some 80s Hollywood Voodoo, and so was able to stave off death by transferring his soul into the body of a doll when the cops finally caught him.

The first three films were all branded Child’s Play, and concerned Chucky’s antagonistic relationship with the franchise’s first Final Girl, a young boy named Andy Barclay. More specifically, they were about Chucky’s quest to transfer his soul back into a human body, with magic tying him to specifically need to go after Andy.

In 1998 however, the series took a turn from darkly comedic horror into full-on horror-comedy with Bride of Chucky, which was followed up by Seed of Chucky in 2004. These two jettisoned Andy entirely, to focus on Chucky himself and his relationship with his girlfriend Tiffany (played by Jennifer Tilly), and eventually their child, Glenn/Glenda. It also had some character development for Chucky, culminating in him deciding that being a living doll wasn’t so bad, as it meant immortality, more or less.

Unfortunately, Seed of Chucky was so terrible that it put the franchise to sleep for almost a decade and banished the next two films to direct to video. Curse of Chucky and its sequel, Cult of Chucky, are some of the best films in the franchise in my opinion, and do a pretty good job of balancing the horror with the comedy. These two films focused on a young woman named Nica (played by Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad) and Chucky terrorizing her.

Cult of Chucky ends with the revelation that Chucky has found a ‘Voodoo’ spell online that allows him to clone his soul, allowing him to create multiple Chuckys (Chuckies?). He manages to possess Nica, and we end with the Chucky possessed Nica uniting with Tiffany and heading off into the night.

An Overview Of Chucky

Chucky TV Poster

For a direct follow-up, Chucky…doesn’t seem particularly interested in more than the broadest strokes of Cult of Chucky. It takes half the season for characters from the films to show up.

The basic premise of the series revolves around a teenage boy named Jake finding Chucky, who promptly begins to manipulate him into becoming a murderer, or at least trying to. All the while, Jake works on navigating his complicated family situation, high school bullies, and his sexuality.

Yes, in a surprisingly progressive move, Jake is in fact gay. And his crush is a teenage Black boy named Devon. It’s a very nice, very sweet move on the show’s part, and the relationship is played fairly well, with genuine authenticity and care. The man who’s been behind the whole franchise (Mark Hamill movie excepted) is Don Mancini, and he’s made it clear that he poured a lot of his own life and experiences into the plot.

As the series goes on, the plot deepens. I’m not going to go into it too in-depth here. By the standards of Slasher plots, it’s perfectly fine. There’s good twists, good build-up, nobody is so obnoxious that you’re anxiously awaiting their death (well, there’s some obnoxious characters, but they’re literal children and so get leeway). It does everything it needs to, and it executes things fairly well.

Simply put, the series is set immediately after Cult of Chucky (Curse and Cult pulled an MCU and had a time jump between them that reflected the real-life gap between the two movies, and the other films are acknowledged as taking place in the decades in which they were released rather than a sliding timescale) and concerns Chucky’s intentions to use his ability to form an army of himself to its fullest possible extent.

The meat of the season is split, with the first half of the season being more about Chucky trying to be manipulative and subtle, murdering but trying to frame his murders as accidents or good, Punisher style acts. Then the second half is more about Jake, Devon, and mean girl Lexy working to try and find and stop him, while he wreaks havoc and tries to find someone to replace Jake for his plans. And as episodes go on, Tiffany, Nica, and a grown-up Andy all show up, as well as some other characters. All leading up to an explosive climax and building into a second season.

So, that’s the very light recap of the plot. I’m not gonna break down every episode for you, there are plenty of places for that. Let’s instead talk about some things that stood out. Starting with…

The Good

First things first, the Chucky animatronics in this show are…remarkably impressive for a basic cable series.

Chucky himself
Chucky pondering. Philos-Chucky, if you will.

His movements are fluid, his face is expressive and intense, the lip-syncing flawless. This is the best the character has ever looked.

The animatronic’s not the only great actor here though. The entire cast is doing an excellent job. Even our main characters, whose actors are actually age-appropriate for their roles. Yeah, no Dear Evan Hansen or even CW shenanigans here, we’ve got a group of fourteen and fifteen-year-old characters played by actors who aren’t more than sixteen, and they all give great performances. Admittedly, Lexy starts as a rather basic and boring spoiled mean girl, but she grows over the course of the series.

Good acting can save bad dialogue, but fortunately, that’s not a problem here. The dialogue is snappy, clever, darkly funny, and most importantly, believable. A lot of horror, particularly Slashers and horror comedies, have the problem of dialogue that just…feels off. The Child’s Play/of Chucky franchise in particular has been guilty of this on more than one occasion. That’s not a problem here though, and the show’s all the better for it.

On top of all of that, the first episode was downright masterful in its use of Chucky. It never treated the audience like we were stupid or didn’t know what he was about, but it still played him subtly. It built to the reveal of him moving and talking. There’s a scene of him just silently standing and staring at Lexy, and it’s honestly the first time Chucky has been genuinely and purely scary in a while. Seriously, cannot praise that aspect enough.

The Bad

This is far from a terrible series, in fact, it’s probably the best show based on a horror franchise. However, it does have its flaws, so let’s talk about them.

Every episode has at least a handful of scenes showing Chucky’s backstory. Flashbacks to scenes from his formative years. Now, on the one hand, this isn’t Joker. There are no efforts to make him seem sympathetic or show that trauma caused him to become what he is. Which is good, and fits the character as we’ve seen him in the past. On the other hand, though, it’s kind of pointless. There are no twists, there are no surprises, it’s fanservice at best. They’re stylish, they’re neat…but they’re also superfluous. You lose nothing from cutting them and gain little from having them.

More frustratingly is how the show handles the majority of adult characters. This is a Chucky show, so it should come as no real surprise that the adults range from terrible people to useless idiots. From Jake’s abusive father to Lexy’s abusive mother, to Jake’s weirdly suspicious aunt who gets killed not long after revealing that she wasn’t actually bad, to Devon’s cop mother who thinks everything is Jake’s fault, the show really doesn’t like its adults.

Speaking of which, there’s just…a whole lot of insensitivity for a show that began production in 2019 casting a Black woman to play an antagonistic and useless cop. To the character’s credit, she’s shown to be a good mother who cares about her son…but she also dies not long after she figures out that Jake’s not a bad guy. Of course, this has always been a very, very white franchise, so I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s still frustrating.

And Nica

…If anything is going to ruin this show, it’s how the character of Nica Pierce is handled. Which is confusing, because all the episodes were written by Don Mancini, who also did Nica’s two movies.

Allow me to explain.

Chucky Series Nica
Nica as herself

Nica Pierce is the protagonist of the two movies that, to put it mildly, saved the franchise. A strong-willed, stubborn, and intelligent young woman, paralyzed from the waist down from birth and connected to Chucky’s origins, she’s just…a great character.

Cult of Chucky ended with Nica being possessed by Chucky, magically allowing her to stand and walk, as well as letting Fiona Dourif flex her acting talents.

Nica as Chucky
Nica as Chucky

Her Chucky is different from her father’s, adding more swagger to the character, as well as a different flavor of manic energy. While it was a dark choice, it was also an interesting one. A chance to get a different flavor of female villain to the franchise, rather than just Tiffany’s petulant vamp.

Instead, Nica barely shows up in the series. She’s shown to be fighting Chucky from the inside, occasionally taking control back which is…honestly kind of boring? Certainly, there’s a degree of hopefulness to that, but at the same time, there was a potential there for something different beyond that. Nica and Chucky blending, perhaps, resulting in an anti-hero who knows Chucky inside out?

To top it all off we get a needlessly dark, cruel twist to the character at the end. Tiffany falls for her, but obviously fears the Chucky inside of Nica. So what does she do? She cuts Nica’s limbs off. And that is how we leave the protagonist of the last two movies, strapped to a wheelchair, no arms or legs, under the care of a deranged woman.

It feels…gross. Ableist, a waste of potential (both in terms of character and in regards to Fiona Dourif’s acting abilities) and just…myopic. Also, in Curse of Chucky we had Nica’s ‘evil’ aunt, who was having an affair with her nanny, and now we have Tiffany going full yandere. I know that two examples aren’t a pattern, but it still feels gross that every queer woman in this franchise is presented as being morally wrong. It’s not homophobia, exactly, because Jake and Devon are shown to be wholesome and sweet. However, both women are queer and there’s clearly some antagonism from the writers coming through.

Final Thoughts

Chucky is a…complicated series. Both in terms of plot and in terms of summing up how I feel about it. The roller coaster of quality that the franchise as a whole has dealt with up to this point seems to have been condensed into a single season here. This is peak Child’s Play, for better and for worse.

If you’re looking for some good horror television but aren’t into demons or hauntings, then yeah, this is a good choice. The dialogue and acting are good, the effects are honestly amazing, and the plot flows fairly well. On top of that, genuine heart and effort have been put into the character of Jake, and the show’s depiction of the struggles of being a gay young man.

However, if Child’s Play isn’t your cup of tea then this isn’t going to change your mind. And if you were a fan of Curse and Cult, I don’t know that there’s much here for you. This series can be boiled down to ‘A salute to the whole franchise, but mostly the first two movies’. For better…and for worse.

Images Courtesy of SyFy, USA Network, and Universal Pictures

Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!

Latest Posts

New Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 Gameplay Overview Trailer Shows Off Co-Op Combat And New Classes

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 Shows Off Intense Combat & Mechanics in Today’s New Gameplay Overview Trailer

Publishing Is Heating Up With These Summer Horror Releases

Summer can be spooky, too! And this summer horror...

Help Your Littles Ones Read Better With Popped: The Reading Game

Popped! The Reading Game is a card game combined...

From the Vault: “Panther Squad”

In his essay on bad movies, critic J. Hoberman...