If there’s any part of the entertainment world that embraces diversity and representation, it’s the children’s series. Animated series are very open to making their main character anything, because they want everyone in their audience to identify with their character in one way or another. The new Netflix animated series, based on the popular graphic novel series, takes that representation further than we’ve ever seen — and then doesn’t mind it. Read more.
Opening Shot: A woman in a long dress and disheveled hair ran through the rain, towards a large house.
The main thing is: After we see the woman, dressed as Pauline Phoenix (Clinton Leupp), a former B-horror movie star who now owns Phoenix Parks, suffer a terrifying fate at home, we cut to the home of two teenagers. Barney (Zach Barack) and Norma (Kody Kavitha) both head to Phoenix Parks for a security job interview at the park’s haunted house.
Barney is excited to go, because he has to have dinner with his grandmother, who still doesn’t understand why he’s turned into a boy. His Pugs, Pugs, jumped into his backpack to keep him company. Norma is a huge Phoenix fan and knows everything about her and the history of the park, but she rarely goes out and doesn’t recognize Barney, even though he is her neighbor and lab mate at school.
At the haunted house, they are greeted by a little demon named Courtney (Emily Osment) who greets them and calls them “offerings.” In reality, they were offerings to Temeluchus, who was looking for a flesh and blood form to inhabit. However, somehow, Temeluchus transforms himself into little Pugsley (Alex Brightman). In the race to save Pugsley, Norma and Barney team up, using the skills they both possess, to help the dogs at Pugsley defeat the demons. Norma also realizes that if they get a photo of a dog in a trance on the flume ride, Temeluchus will disappear.
What Event Will Remind You? Dead End: Paranormal Park created by Hamish Steele, based on his work DeadEndia book series. It seems a bit crazy animated series like Rick & Morty and Steven Universe is a big influence.
We take: More than many animated children’s series aimed at an audience of 7 years and over, Dead End: Paranormal Park makes a follow-up story right off the bat in the first few minutes. Without going out and saying it right away, Steele introduces his audience to two cartoon heroes you usually don’t see: Barney is trans and Norma is, by all evidence (and show records), neurodivergent. That’s certainly part of both of their stories, but that doesn’t define them as characters, and that’s a great thing.
Barney is especially in situations where he doesn’t quite know where he fits in. Her mother loved her very much, but when she asked about her grandmother, “Did you tell her? barney will be there?” In other words, her mother wasn’t ready to tell her mother that Barney was now Barney, which depressed her so much that she decided to stay at the mansion that night, after Courtney offered them both jobs as personal protection against the demons that were after her, as well as security for the mansion.
But the main story is the teens guarding the mansion from all manner of demons and other paranormal villains, plus the mystery surrounding the disappearance of all the Pauline Phoenix impersonators employed at the park. There’s already a good partnership between the more relaxed Barney and the detail-oriented Norma, and it will be interesting to see how their situation plays out in their work.
For What Age Group Is This?: There’s some scary stuff in the first episode, but it’s definitely for audiences 7 and up, depending on how tolerant your child’s cartoon demons are.
Last word: Barney and Pugsley sleep in a coffin in the mansion. When Barney said “nights” to Pugsley, Pugsley, who still had a piece of Temeluchus inside of him, replied, “Night, night, Barney.” Barney opened his eyes wide in surprise.
Sleeping Star: People forget that, apart from being a veteran of family-oriented sitcoms, Emily Osment has done a lot of cartoon voice-over work, so she’s pretty funny here as Courtney.
Most Pilot-y Lines: “Nice costume,” Norma told Courtney as a quick way to explain why no teenager would freak out at the sight of a little red horned devil.
Our call: STREAM. Not only heroes Dead End: Paranormal Park not the protagonists of your standard grade children’s cartoons, but the stories they follow have all sorts of directions they could go.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but she’s not lying to herself: she’s a TV addict. Her writings have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.