‘CHUCKY’: THE VERDICT SO FAR

Has the pintsize terror’s TV debut been worth the wait? Luke takes a look at the state of play after the first two episodes of Chucky

_PREVIEW.   it’s about _TV.   words _LUKE WHITTICASE.
episodes reviewed _1 & 2.   networks _SYFY, _USA NETWORK.

October 28, 2021
images © SyFy/USA Network 2021.

It’s pleasing to consider that since the series’ inception way back in 1988, the Chucky franchise has remained largely within the hands of original creator Don Mancini, who has shepherded the it through the changing hands of studios and branding rights turmoil to the present day as a constant, guiding creative voice over his creation. He’s also unique in the sphere of horror cinema for being one of the few active and out gay voices within the genre, whose fondness for retro camp aestheticism and blending of broad horror comedy have slowly become infused into the series’ DNA (and to some extent, the titular terror himself) since the original feature.

Now, that voice has finally come to something approaching a culmination of a lifetime of work with the limited series Chucky, which serves as both the infamous killer doll’s first foray into the televisual sphere and a piece of prime seasonal event viewing for Syfy and USA Network, but also acts as a direct continuation of the narrative established by the ongoing film series – of which Mancini plans to return to once the series has aired.

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Hackensack, New Jersey, the narrative sees Chucky (voiced, naturally, by Brad Dourif in what is his eighth official franchise project) return to the town of his birth and quickly take under his wing Zackary Arthur as Jake Wheeler, a semi-closeted 14-year-old boy who purchases Chucky during a yard sale, principally for the retro/ventage factor (and to become part of a truly grotesque art installation that wouldn’t look out of place in Silent Hill) before realising what he’s brought into his home.

It’s through Jake that we find the central voice of the narrative for the series, a boy coming-of-age in a less than accepting environment for either his sexuality or artistic aspirations. His mother is dead, he’s maligned by his drunken father (Devon Sawa, actually on double role duty) and routinely picked on by the malicious school bitch Lexy Cross (Alyvia Alyn Lind) and his antagonistic cousin Junior (Teo Briones), who also happens to be her boyfriend. All the while harbouring his own crush for Junior’s best friend, local true crime podcaster Devon (Björgvin Arnarson). What Mancini has poured into Jake is something of a reflection of his own upbringing. If not in the incidental details, then mostly in the emotional respects of how a young isolated gay kid growing up in an unaccepting environment found comfort and a kinship of sorts when the idea of a sardonic and malevolent talking doll came into his life. But unlike Mancini’s own relationship to his creation, Jake’s appears to be one verging on the edge of parasitic. Chucky is the stand in of a bully who feigns niceties to befriend the lonely Jake, while occasionally letting slip the abusive toxicity he has over him. Chucky steps in to nurture the wounded soul into accepting that the violence the killer Good Guy inflicts upon those who have hurt Jake is justly deserved – and that maybe Jake needs to even get his own hands dirty and take some responsibility for himself. Chucky even states outright that Jake’s homosexuality doesn’t bother him, even going so far as to mention his own genderfluid child Glen/Glenda (the first mention of Billy Boyd’s character since his introduction back in 2004’s Seed of Chucky) on positive terms (“I’m not a monster”), a development the internet recently went deservedly joyous over.

Chucky showrunner Don Mancini has spoken of his desire for. theshow to return to the mould of the original films, where a young boy is caught under the sway and snare of the nefarious doll. Alex Vincent, pictured above in the original Child’s Play film, will be reprising his role as Chucky’s original nemesis, Andy Barclay, in future episodes…

This seems to be the early burgeoning of one of the series’ overarching questions; will Jake eventually give in to his darker desires and inflict punishment of his own, Charles Lee Ray style, upon his persecutors in order to survive? The suggestion is signposted rather loudly when Madalen Duke’s ‘How Villains Are Made’ plays over a montage of Jake picking up the pieces of his destroyed artwork at the hands of his abusive father, and it will be genuinely interesting to see how Mancini processes and plays this transition.

That’s not to say that the series is tonally dour, far from it. It still retains that sense of vibrancy in colour and visual homage that Mancini has always strived for, here unleashed on a massive budget and scope; this is easy the most impressive production of Mancini’s career to date. The violence is gooey instead of lurid, Joseph LoDuca’s returning score is good, and Chucky himself still feels like a sickening yet delightful presence to be around, helped considerably by the best puppetry and design the series has had for a while.

It’s all so alive with personality and colour from the supporting cast of characters and performers, many of which feel justly deserving of a grisly end, and seem to have their part to play in the tangled web that Chucky is spinning between these interweaving lives.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Chucky’s fixation on Jake taking revenge on Lexy might have something to do with her mother being the current Mayor of Hackensack.

Chucky showrunner Don Mancini has spoken of his desire for. theshow to return to the mould of the original films, where a young boy is caught under the sway and snare of the nefarious doll. Alex Vincent, pictured above in the original Child’s Play film, will be reprising his role as Chucky’s original nemesis, Andy Barclay, in future episodes…

There’s a reason Chucky has returned home, but the answer to which isn’t entirely clear yet in these first couple of episodes, as the foundations are still being laid. There are occasional Carpenter-esque flashbacks to as-yet unseen aspects of Charles Lee Ray’s childhood which are tantalising, as well as the promise of the return of long-time film series cast members Jennifer Tilly, Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent and Christine Elise later on. Chucky might have some big, horrifying plans ahead for the town that made him who he is, and now that there are multiple versions of him running around in both doll and human form, we’re tantalised with at the idea of a ticking clock Horcrux hunt of sorts, when it comes to the B-plot with the return of the series OG protagonist Andy Barclay and former foster-sister Kyle (see: Child’s Play 2 and, more recently, Cult of Chucky).

If even the mention of multiple Chuckys running around confuses you, then that very well may become one of the few standout issues for the series going forward. Acting in chronology with the films, Chucky arrives off of the back of some pretty wild plot developments and directions taken in the recent Mancini-directed Curse and Cult (the latter especially) that make them almost essential viewing in order to understand what the hell is going on.

So newcomers may find themselves a little lost, but to long-time fans this is pure catnip. From what we’ve seen so far, Mancini is doing a quite delicious job of channeling the earlier energies of the franchise in particular – the original Child’s Play and its sequel being mostly straight-laced affairs revolving around Chucky’s influence over a young boy. But you need only look a little further along the franchise timeline, and all the aforementioned narrative and character balls alrady in play to see the direction Chucky is almost inevitably heading in. As wild and imaginative as the series has already allowed itself to get at the expense of its own convoluted lore and worldbuilding, all signs point that it may just be about to get even wilder still.
There’s still plenty of scope for it to go horribly off the rails, but so far Mancini and co. have delivered in the first two episodes of Chucky a wickedly nasty and consummately entertaining opener for the demonic doll’s tv debut. Ade due Damballa…

Chucky is currently airing weekly episodes on SyFy and USA Network to viewers in the US.

Sky TV has acquired the UK broadcast rights for the series, and will air Chucky later in 2021.

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