Brand New Cherry Flavor

4 out of 5

Created by: Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion

covers season 1

Brand New Cherry Flavor, as presented in its flat, slightly italicized font, generally smash-cutted into each episode, brings to mind a couple of Twin Peaks references – new chewing gum; cherry pie – mashed into a gore horror context, a la Evil Dead or Dead Alive. The bright, neon colors favored for the font have an 80s vibe, which puts it in the right era for another common visual nod throughout the series – Cronenberg. So if you’re playing along, the titles alone give us Lynch, Raimi, and body horror, and while I don’t want to presume that my analyses are ever correct, whether intentional or not, I think those vibes are all quite fitting.

BNCF co-creator Nick Antosca previously brought us Channel Zero, and that show’s purposefully loose grip on reality, and creepy-pasta appropriation – leaning into conceptual creeps that “suggest” more than explain themselves – are intact here, with jittery monsters appearing in shadows and trapdoors to nowhere magically appearing. But whereas Zero was rather constantly morose, Antosca and co-creator Lenore Zion have leaned into moreso the Lynchian tendency for straight-faced weirdness, and thus humor, with Cherry Flavor, and lead actor Rosa Salazar absolutely seals the deal with her perfect delivery of lines about zombies, and witches, and curses, and… vomiting up baby kittens. The L.A. of the show – to which Salazar has traveled, summoned by producer Lou Burke (Eric Lange) after seeing her short film – isn’t necessarily a satire of the city, which would be the more common approach to make the show’s indulgences and ridiculousness more palatable, rather, the world is just so broken already that when Lisa (Salazar) has to, say, procure some of Burke’s pubic hair in order to enact a curse for stealing her movie, no one really bats an eye. Even prior to that, when “Boro” (Catherine Keener) approaches Lisa with the offer of said curse, the latter is skeptical, but also: why not? And this is the approach the show mostly takes, which is brilliantly refreshing: we are, at all points, spared the padding of runtime dedicated to convincing nonbelievers of what’s happening, or trying to science it out for a doubting audience. Yeah, maybe none of it is real, but: why not see where it goes?

And it goes. Into some of the most (in recent past) absurd body horror that will have you cringing and laughing out loud in turn; splashes of gross-out absurdity that are treated with that same common-place type of acceptance; free-wheeling story telling that sets Lisa on a path of revenge against Burke that just keeps escalating, occasionally willed as such, but also just as occasionally side-effects to things already put in motion. This allows us to mostly stay on Lisa’s side: we very much understand her initial triggering down this road (there’s an underlying theme of control and “favors owed” played throughout this, and you can imagine how that’s effected in a Hollywood story featuring an up-and-coming female director and an older, sleazier male producer), and though she gets quite malicious throughout, the events are generally half-purposeful and half-accidental; meanwhile, we can sift through Boro’s motivations, and enjoy the inclusion of movie star Roy (Jeff Ward) acting as something of the straight man against Lisa’s growing unhingedness, some bumbling hitmen, and a crazy, one-eyed ex-girlfriend.

While the plaintive delivery of the show’s wild sides is a boon, it does seem to encourage some odd editing choices, where dialogue beats and scene juxtapositions occasionally hit flat. The latter might also have been budget: BNCF has an appropriately other-worldly look, but it also can feel rather “small” at times, not actually taking place in a big city, and some of the digital work, unfortunately, feels off. Combined with the editing hiccups, a couple scenes which should have been great scares or really creepy just aren’t. Thankfully, conceptually, it’s all very sound, and interesting, so it’s by no means a deal breaker, just a few steps away from being perfect.

Due to Antosca’s involvement, and some carried over visuals, it might be easy to consider this as an extension of Channel Zero, but I don’t think that’s fair. Zero was always very much story first, and here – this is absolutely Salazar’s show, and her character’s experience. Everything that happens happens around her, and she – Salazar – imbues the entire series with her mood, and affected style. Obviously that’s supported by writers, directors, and production, which are all in sync, but if you just try to focus on curses and witches, the story would lose its cohesiveness. It doesn’t work without Salazar. And I would love to see Antosca and Zion continue down this road, maybe not with more of Lisa’s story – there is a definitive, if all-is-not-explained ending – but with more of this brilliant, unique, character-led oddball stuff.