4 out of 5

Created by: Don Mancini

covers season 1

The Child’s Play series, for all its ups and downs, fascinates me. I’m a sucker for franchises that have an “owner;” it’s one of the reasons I still found pleasure in the Resident Evil series (though not having any real ties to the games probably helped), why Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm brings me a lot of joy, and why I’ve always been intrigued to know what Child’s Play creator (and writer of, to date, all the flicks sans the remake; director of the last several) Don Mancini is up to. Not only is it unusual for one person to be so heavily involved in a long-running franchise, but despite some definite speed bumps in the run, he seems to always try to rework the movies into something that makes sense for evolving it for the times, while also keeping in crowd-pleasing elements. This was a more difficult task in the original couple sequels, when expectations were a bit higher, but as things went along, the movies have become more and more shaped by a more and more confident hand. And I love that we can see Mancini’s rebuttal to a remake with which he wasn’t involved as being a TV show that’s another smart, fun update to the series… and also a damn good horror TV show on its own terms.

‘Chucky’ starts out by following a variation of the template: a Good Guy doll is picked up by loner teen Jake (Zackary Arthur), and, sure enough, it’s got ol’ Charles Lee Ray possessing it, voiced to perfection, as always by Brad Dourif. But instead of just jumping in to cat-and-mouse games with a doll knocking off characters and others first overcoming disbelief, then teaming up against him, Mancini alters the formula to make more sense for a 2021 audience who’s either seen that a million times before, or maybe wants something with a little more kick than just some typical blood ‘n’ guts.

Firstly, the barrier of disbelief is easily conquered by characters who have the internet, and can easily check on the history of the doll. This allows for direct communication between Jake and Chucky, and thereby the draw of a devilish pact: Jake has an alcoholic father; Jake is bullied at school; and maybe the doll can help him out…?

But it’s not that simple. The show actually develops Jake as a character, and much to my surprise – and to the immense benefit of the show – his tormentors as well. The full cast of lead kids who get swept up in Chucky’s machinations are fleshed out rather fascinatingly, in a well-balanced study on all of those many things that run our kids’ lives, paralleled by similar struggles for the more “knowing” adults: questions of sexuality, power dynamics, social status. This is juggled with episode-by-episode flashbacks into Chucky’s life… as well as frequent bouts of creative gore that are expertly executed. So the show hits on a lot of marks: the concept is easily graspable to new viewers, it satisfies in a genre sense, and because it draws from the franchise’s history – because we have Mancini steering the ship – it’s right in line with the films, as well.

This last bit is where things do get a bit cluttered and clunky later on, though, as aspects from the last few movies become very integral to the story. I do think they’re brought in pretty well, but there’s some inventive – though distracting – casting to effect showing us certain characters in the flashbacks, and it does feel like we hit a hard transition about midway through the season between Zack’s story and this past-exploring aspect of it, though once you’re past that bump, it smoothes out and heads into a fantastic set of concluding eps.

And not only am I still left waiting for what Mancini will do next – meaning the show has not dispelled the innate appeal of the franchise – I actually want to now rewatch all the films again, and the series again, ramping me up for the confirmed second season.