Tuesday, August 9, 2022

TV Terror: Chucky (2021 TV Series)

Chucky (2021 Series)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Zackary Arthur, Bjorgvin Arnarson and Alyvia Alyn Lind

Over the years, the Child Play movies evolve from a creepily clever take on supernatural slashing to a splatstick horror comedy parodying the ups and downs of serial killer married life and parenthood, to a straight-to-video mish-mash of the old and new which we last seen ended with open doors all the way back at 2017. Now, it appears the iconic killer doll is hitting the small screen as a TV series and the result is, well, mostly good!

Taking place some time after Cult of Chucky (2017), we start the scene at a yard sale in Hackensack, New Jersey, where young artistic loner Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur) purchases a vintage Good Guy named for an art project made of doll parts. This more or less makes him the weird kid in school, a baggage he's struggling to carry along the usual coming-of-age teen angst, which so happens include dealing with his bullying cousin Junior (Teo Briones) and his cousin's queen bee girlfriend Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind), as well as handling his own insecurities as a gay boy secretly crushing on cute true crime podcaster Devon. (Björgvin Arnarson) 

Problem arises when Jake's depressed drunkard of a father hit the bottle too hard one night and goes physical on the boy, prompting the Good Guy to break away from Barbie-mode and do him real good with some handy dandy live wires and projectile vomiting. (No, I'm not kidding) The death is ruled as an accident (for now) and Jake moves in with his uncle's family, a living arrangement Junior isn't too happy about. But it seems our pint-sized slasher has some plans for Jake as he starts talking to the boy about the joys of murder and how he's really on his side, giving the loner a sense of warmth that just so happens to don a bloodied kitchen knife. We can tell this is all manipulation but why exactly is the doll so very keen on having Jake do away his own murders?

It all leads to some secrets revealed, pasts explored, unlikely partnerships made, the return of a few familiar faces and an increasing bodycount that'll leave the town of Hackensack doomed in the plastic hands of our infamous Lake Shore Strangler, Charles Lee Ray (And company), but not before Chucky plays the waiting game focusing itself with the story first, random bloodlust second. And for a good run, this works well enough as the tween actors do a remarkable job on their roles as little misfits and misunderstood troublemakers despite some predictability on their development (navigating young queer love and the typical bully-learns-humility arc, to name a few), a fact that makes up for how most of the adult characters here are written flimsily, lacking any real personality and with tongues pressed oh so firmly in the cheek that their incompetence and ham earn them deaths via rampaging killer doll.

Thankfully, it isn't a Chucky show without the man himself, Brad Dourif! And as always, along with the workably expressive puppetry and practical effects bringing the Good guy doll to life, he brings a lot to the table as our iconic late-80s killer doll, ranging from being funny and comforting, to dangerously menacing, sometimes in a single scene wherein he had to interact with whoever kid he's preying upon, Jake included. It's here where the series tackles an intriguing aspect that was never fully explored in depth in any of the movies, providing a more psychological stab at how Charles Lee Ray works as we see his not-so-humble beginnings as a psychopathic child growing up into a serial killer, developing philosophies throughout these years as life lessons and metaphors glorifying the need to do murder. It is these philosophies and a level of gentleness that put Chucky here in an unusual position as a mentor, hoping to influence his pupil's homicidal impulse for reasons only he'll benefit from given that it doesn't get challenged.  

Within the first half of the season, Chucky explores the effectiveness of the Charles Lee Ray approach to being a slasher guru to the youth, culminating to some good drama and development from our young casts, as well as some decent murder sprees as Chucky eventually starts taking lives and harming others before fighting against an alliance between Jake, Lexy and Devon. When the second half of the season rolls in, though, it feels like the series shifted to another story as while most of the major tensions were resolved by this point, there is still the mystery behind Chucky's arrival in Hackensack and what his ultimate goal is. This is when the legacy Child’s Play actors enter the picture, with an adult Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) and his foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise), former Chucky victims, arriving to hunt down all the possessed Good Guy dolls, while Chucky's equally psychotic partner Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) tags along a possessed Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif), Chucky's terrorized victim from Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017), to Hackensack so the two can initiate a cross country murder plan involving a voodoo spell and an army of Chucky dolls.

As much as I want to fully enjoy these returning faces, their parts in the series were a bit uneven for me; for one, Andy Barclay and Kyle spend most of their time traveling to Hackensack, leaving very little of an impression as there's hardly anything for them to do once they finally got to town. Tiffany's very complex relationship with Chucky rears its ugly head again as we see her act out both her loving partner and tired girlfriend/wife routines once more, supposedly looked deeper here through a series of flashbacks but it personally felt dragging as it added very little to what we already established between her and Chucky from the movies. The only interesting bit thrown here is how Chucky's possession works on a human victim as seen through Nica Pierce, which is later taken advantage by Tiffany in a macabre kidnapping situation. The matter that Nica just couldn't catch a break makes me wonder what the series would've been like if it focused more on her plight, which would've left her fate by the end of this season all the more shocking.

On a positive note, I like that Chucky just took a little dip back to the horror-comedy bits of Bride (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004) and not completely throwing away the semi-serious tone when this second half kicked in, dishing out enough cheesiness and pure B-grade chaos in the climax as Chucky paints a matinee red with blood while patrons watch Frankenstein (1931) for a charity event, all the while our trio of kids try to put a stop to the madness. I just wish there's a bit of consistency to how Chucky can be defeated; one end have him surviving getting decapitated with a knife, but then we see a few of the possessed dolls dying (or seemingly dying) away from multiple gunshot wounds, having their heads blown off or their throat crushed until their eyes and tongue popped off. It's a little dent that grinds my gears but, all in all, the show is still a real fun ride that sets itself as a competent enough production with strongly composed and expressive visuals, striking lighting and a barrage of creatively gruesome murder set-pieces within an engaging tween drama and slasher fanservice. 

To simply put it, Chucky is a solid piece of slasher entertainment. One that left its doors open again for another season of more mischief, macabre and massacres

1 male electrocuted on a soaked live wire (S1, E1 - Death By Misadventure)
1 female pushed head first into knives (S1, E2 - Give Me Something Good to Eat)
1 male knifed to death (S1, E3 - I Liked to be Hugged)
1 male stabbed to death with an ice pick (flashback) (S1, E3 - I Liked to be Hugged)
1 female found murdered with a knife (flashback) (S1, E3 - I Liked to be Hugged)
1 male found murdered, mutilated (flashback) (S1, E4 - Just Let Go)
1 male gets a thrown scalpel to the back, repeatedly stabbed with syringes (S1, E4 - Just Let Go)
1 female knifed to death (flashback) (S1, E5 - Little Little Lies)
1 male seen murdered (S1, E5 - Little Little Lies)
1 male had his throat slashed with a knife (S1, E5 - Little Little Lies)
1 female decapitated (S1, E5 - Little Little Lies)
1 male had his throat cut with a nail file (flashback) (S1, E6 - Cape Queer)
1 female crashed through a window with a rolling file cart, falls to her death (S1, E6 - Cape Queer)
1 female toppled down the stairs, neck broken (S1, E6 - Cape Queer)
1 male seen murdered (flashback) (S1, E7 - Twice the Grieving, Double the Loss)
1 female knifed to death (flashback) (S1, E7 - Twice the Grieving, Double the Loss)
1 male beaten to death with a doll (S1, E7 - Twice the Grieving, Double the Loss)
1 male killed offcamera with a knife (S1, E8 - An Affair to Dismember)
10 victims knifed from underneath their seats (S1, E8 - An Affair to Dismember)
1 male knifed in the chest (S1, E8 - An Affair to Dismember)
Total: 29

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