October 2, 2022

“Chucky” Breathes New Life into Horror Television (Season 1 Review)

Note: This review was originally published on SiftPop in December 2021. Also, read my review of the Chucky series premiere here.

Add Child’s Play to the list of franchises that still manage to be fresh, original and fun over thirty years after their inception. And while we’re at it, add Brad Dourif to the list of voice actors I will never get tired of; as much as I like Mark Hamill, Chucky should be played by no one else but Dourif.

Directly following the events of 2017’s Cult of Chucky, the new eight-episode series picks up in Hackensack, New Jersey, an unassuming town known in this world as the birthplace of Charles Lee Ray…also known as Chucky, everyone’s favorite killer doll. The first half of the season features an all-new cast, which is a refreshing change of pace for the series, which has mostly had Chucky as its lead character in recent entries.

Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur) is a young teenage loner — you know the type — who collects dolls and represses his homosexuality because of his overbearing father. At school, he avoids his crush Devon (Björgvin Arnarson) while contending with cartoonishly mean kids like Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind) and Jake’s own cousin Junior (Teo Briones). Thankfully, these bullies aren’t one-dimensional, they get the development befitting their arcs and the talents of their actors. The eight-episode length gives us enough time to get to know them, and recognize these characters as intelligent and appropriate decision-makers — another refreshing change of pace from the horror tropes we’ve gotten so tired of.

Series creator/showrunner Don Mancini is once again in control, after having no involvement in the 2019 Child’s Play reboot (which featured Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky). Mancini himself is gay, and makes homosexuality a prevalent element of the series after toying with it in some of the films. It doesn’t feel forced or “woke” — there’s a care put into it that makes it feel genuine.

Mancini, who’s been with the franchise from the very beginning, also brings a delightfully specific sense of continuity to this new television series. There are elements present here (and countless more mentioned) that most people won’t even remember from the original films. I love the niche references and creative connections; you don’t see that interconnectivity in a lot of horror franchises, so I’m glad Chucky made an effort in that regard.

The original characters bring a really interesting take to the Child’s Play universe, and that’s on family dynamics. There are lots of them in Chucky; every main character has some sort of family drama that becomes involved in the story one way or another. At these points, Chucky can get pretty dark and depressing, all before straying back into fantasy/horror territory. It’s a tricky balance, but the series does a remarkably good job for a debut season.

The first half is a stand-alone story, disconnected from the rest of the series storyline save for a few mentions here and there. However, halfway through the season, Chucky embraces the convoluted narrative of the last few films by bringing in some returning characters, including Jennifer Tilly as Chucky’s girlfriend Tiffany, Fiona Dourif (daughter of Brad) as Nica Pierce, and Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay, both actor and character returning from the very first film in 1988. Despite the infusion of so many new story factors midway through, the series never gets too complicated, and everything weaves together very well.

Speaking of convoluted, something introduced in 2013’s Curse of Chucky was the concept of multiple versions of the killer doll existing at the same time. The Chucky series continues this tradition to the extreme, crafting some fun guess-work — which doll is which? — and the beauty of it is that they can kill their villain as many times as they want, and the franchise will endure. It can keep going for as long as Don Mancini wants it to.

And it looks like it will keep going for a while longer: Season 2 of Chucky is set to debut in 2022. Bloody, profane, unique and exciting, the series will delight fans of the source material and newcomers alike. After a killer first season, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.

The first season of Chucky is available on demand. Season Two premieres October 5.

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