Chucky review: The Child’s Play TV show lives up to the films’ violent weirdness
It’s easy to forget how good the Child’s Play movies are. Don Mancini’s film franchise about Chucky, a murderous red-haired doll possessed by the spirit of a dead murderer, rides the line between campy comedy and gory slasher, and it’s often managed that perfectly since its 1988 debut. Few series can deliver both humor and bloody comedy as well as the Chucky films. Child’s Play The six sequels. After years of fun at the movies, Chucky is launching his latest murderous misadventure as the star of a TV show for Syfy and the USA Network, and he hasn’t lost any of his talent for killing or comedy on the way to the small screen.
This is the new series. ChuckyThe film, which is the direct sequel to seven of its predecessors, is called “The Seventh Movie”. Mancini also returns to the franchise as the series’ creator, writer, and showrunner — and thank God, because 2019’s disastrous reboot Child’s PlayIt was an important reminder that Chucky is not complete without Mancini.
The film is not like other recent ones that featured the doll and his bride Tiffany as main characters. Chucky Jake Wheeler is a queer middle-schooler. (Zackary Art) lives in Hackensack, New Jersey. This is also the home of Charles Lee Ray (serial killer), whose spirit lives in the Good Guys doll called Chucky.
This show’s success is due to its ability to switch between a child protagonist and a young teenage lead character. The show’s core is simple. Chucky is a teen dramedy about the difficulties of school, bullies, first crushes, and even coming to terms with sexuality — something Mancini, an openly gay man, handles far more deftly than many recent teen shows.
The first few episodes are mostly about introducing the cast, including Jake’s classmates and Hackensack’s adults. There’s Jake’s new friend and first crush, Devon (Björgvin Arnarson), a true-crime podcaster with a paranoid-cop mother; his overworked but good-at-everything cousin Junior (Teo Briones); and Junior’s girlfriend Lexi — played by Alyvia Alyn Lind, who’s outstanding at being almost as gleefully cruel as Chucky in the first few episodes. On their own, the show’s characters would be compelling enough to entertain fans for a 10-episode Netflix show, but the twist arrives when Jake happens to buy Chucky at a yard sale, and the doll reveals his bloodthirst.
Mancini’s addition of Chucky as a sentient killer-doll allows him to ratchet up emotions and make all the usual teenage-angst topics a bit more enjoyable. The show’s bully is meaner than most. She dresses as Jake’s dead parent to celebrate Halloween, instead of calling him names. Jake is stranger than the average teen-movie outcast — he makes sculptures out of dismembered doll parts, which seems to be his only hobby. And Hackensack’s adults are comedically incompetent. On top of that, in a fantastic bit that feels lifted directly from a 1990s sitcom, Chucky gets one ridiculously over-the-top murder per episode — though by the end of episode 4 (the last one made available to critics in advance), it seems like his devious antics are about to take center stage in the story.
Brad Dourif returns as Chucky’s voice for the second series. This is one of his secrets ingredients. Dourif (Grimnir Wormtongue in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) has provided the doll’s voice since the first movie, and he’s exceptional at capturing the perfect blend of venom and comedic timing. While the concept of an evil doll is not difficult to sell, Chucky was a hit because of his gleeful and savage nastiness. This makes him incredibly popular in series form.
On top of making the show ridiculously fun to watch, the teen-drama setup also lets it fit neatly into the Child’s Play series as both a perfect onboarding point for new fans, and a breath of fresh air for series veterans. Chucky’s films haven’t had a young protagonist since the first three movies, which makes this almost feel like a return to form, but the show also provides enough backstory that the other films don’t feel like necessary viewing. Even more, it weaves Charles Lee Ray backstory via a B-plot in a sitcom that almost makes the series feel like a sitcom. Young SheldonRemake starring Hannibal Lecter.
Through the first four episodes, Mancini’s most impressive feat is balancing Chucky It’s a mix of serious and silly topics, but it is always fun to watch. The show swaps comfortably between complicated teen romances, questions about how trauma affects young adults, and Chucky’s hilariously gory murders. Chucky also addresses difficult topics. He’s already proven himself a vocal ally of Jake’s queerness, echoing back to the child he and Tiffany had in The Seed of Chucky — a kid with a male and female side, which Chucky chooses to describe as “genderfluid.” Chucky is even willing to back up his allyship with action, though it’s characteristically murderous action.
Of course, it’s hilarious for Chucky to declare himself “not a monster” for supporting queerness when he’s a monster for so many other reasons. But the doll uses Jake’s queerness to make him feel isolated, even from the largely supportive people around him. It’s a fascinating avenue for the show to explore in its first few episodes, and an unusual one for either a teen dramedy or slasher movies about killer dolls. It’s all appealingly silly, and for longtime fans of the franchise, this show is sure to kill.
Chucky’s eight-episode first season premieres on Syfy and USA Network on Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. ET
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