Television Review: “Chucky” — The Doll’s Foul Play Continues
By Sarah Osman
Syfy’s latest iteration of the killer doll remains as campy and violent as ever.
The ’80s changed the horror game. From Friday the 13th to A Nightmare on Elm Street, the decade brought us such infamous villains as Freddie and Jason (who later went on to battle one another). One miscreant that emerged was Chucky, the possessed Good Guy doll who went on multiple killing rampages and eventually settled down with a family (as one does). The Child’s Play films, written and directed by Don Mancini, never took themselves too seriously, which is what made them the perfect blend of gore and goofiness.
The films’ allegiance to camp remains in Mancini’s TV reboot, Chucky. The series is a direct sequel to the original films, but Chucky doesn’t revolve around Chucky. The protagonist is a queer middle schooler by the name of Jake (Zachary Arthur) and he first encounters the devious doll when he purchases him at a garage sale. Jake has been tagged as the town’s weirdo; he makes sculptures out of doll heads and yearns to be an artist just like his dead mother. Jake is the town’s premier gay eccentric artist and Chucky rather likes him (the death-dealing doll may be a lot of things, but a homophobe he’s not). As Jake’s champion, he tends to murder those who he feels have hurt Jake. On the one hand, it is a bit odd to see Chucky as a vigilante, but it’s also satisfying to watch him take down homophobic bullies. Chucky reminds Jake that he is the father of a gender fluid child and that he cares a lot about the safety of other LGBTQIA+ children. So this multilayered Chucky turns out to be more interesting than the first Chucky. When the new, politically aware version takes down anti-gay bullies it’s hard to argue with him when he proclaims that some people deserve to die.
Unlike the films, which primarily focused on Chucky’s multiple crimes, this Chucky also doubles as a teen drama. Jake has a love interest in Devin (Björgvin Arnarson), a true crime podcaster chronicling the tale of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, who inhabits the body of Chucky. There is also his exhausted cousin Junior (Teo Briones) and his overbearing parents. And then there is Junior’s monstrous girlfriend Lexi (Alyvia Alyn Lind), who gives Chucky a run for his money. Lexi’s greatest joy is tormenting poor Jake; she sets up a GoFundMe to proclaim that the guy is poor, nearly outs him and his crush at a school assembly, and dresses up as his dead father for Halloween. It is enormously satisfying whenever Chucky takes revenge on Lexi. Lind gives the voice of Chucky, Brad Dourif, stiff competition when it comes to nailing heinous and hilarious lines.
The original films’ blend of gore and goofiness fits well with Syfy’s fresh blend of adolescent blues and evil doll. The show’s teen drama will no doubt pull in new viewers (especially younger ones who may not be familiar with Chucky). Longtime fans will be happy because there’s plenty of the homicidal mannequin’s customary snark. The series even promises some new background info on the notorious Charles Lee Ray.
Taking an ’80s icon and updating it for the 21st century is no easy feat (case in point: the rancid Halloween Kills). But Mancini succeeds by pouring old (comic) mayhem into new bottles. There is much here to make the series addictive: the dry one-liners, the uncertainty of who Chucky will kill next, and insinuations that the town is filled with creepy secrets. Don’t expect any meaningful political/cultural messages about society’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ teens. But so what? Chucky is a whole lot of fun; the doll’s foul play has aged like fine wine.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to writing for The Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman