Detention Adventure

4 out of 5

Created by: Carmen Albano, Joe Kicak

covers seasons 1 and 2

Stranger Things existed at the crest of a wave of Goonies-esque nostalgia: adults recreating the 80s mystic adventure-style flicks / shows for their of-age compatriots. Your enjoyment of these outings aside, the general formula itself is a worthwhile one for exploring, as it’s imbued with slightly more focus and innocence than current gen ADD snark: pure entertainment, perhaps sans superheroes, and with the opportunity for a bit more character and personality than your average action spectacle. Except – where are these experiences as geared for their 80s original demographic: kids?

Enter Detention Adventure, a CBC series of 15-minute blips in which four detention-bound kids team up to uncover Thomas Edison’s “secret lab” in their school. The justification behind this pursuit is a little cloudy / cliche – it’ll make us famous and get us into good schools! – but that’s fine: it’s essentially a treasure hunt, with little logic puzzles thrown in along the way, and that very basic motivation, of getting to the X on the map, is surely enough.

Series’ creators Carmen Albano and Joe Kicak find a great tone, here, which has a bit of that ol’ 80s mysticism via Edison’s cryptic clues, which the kids discover across book notes and whatnot, and modern day self-awareness. The kid actors – Jack Fulton, Alina Prijono, Tomaso Sanelli, Simone Miller – are a bit stiff at first, but their comic timing and organicness with one another improve greatly as things go along, making it sort of joyful to see them grow as actors, and also mapping to the way the group of outsiders (a various assortment of nerdy types and a bully) bond, episode by episode. The adults actually struggle more to find a good balance between being too campy and too dry, though the principal (Andrew Moodie) nails it, and as he’s the main antagonist – suspecting there’s a reason the foursome keeps trying to get detention every day, knowing the rumors of Edison’s lab being hidden in the detention room – that’s a good thing.

The short format can be limiting: episodes initially use this as a day-by-day format, meaning each episode starts with some prank to cause detention, middles with an Edison clue and some progress, and ends with the end of detention, but again, things loosen up and become much more naturally flowing as we go along. And the format helps with the characterization, as the intra-kid bickering that would likely become tiresome is shortened to highlights, and the actors do a great job of absorbing a surprising amount of scripted depth into their characters, with the kids coming from imperfect, affecting backgrounds.

The second season throws another fun kid into the mix – Lilly Bartlam, playing an overly exuberant treasure seeker – and moves our adventurers on to a new, and equally engaging hunt, with all of the pluses of the first season carried over successfully.

And we can only hope that there are more adventures to come.