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 obsessed with the ghost of a dead killer, straddles the line between savage comedy and bloody slasher, and has done so many times since her debut in 1988. For people with a keen penchant for stupidity and gore alike, few shows are as adept at delivering both as Child’s play and its six sequels. After years of movie fun, Chucky starts his latest murderous mishap as the star of a TV show for Syfy and the USA Network, and he’s lost none of his killer or comedy talent en route to the small screen.
The new series that is currently called Chucky, is a direct continuation of the previous seven films. Mancini is also making his comeback to the franchise as the series’ creator, writer, and showrunner – and thankfully, for 2019’s disastrous restart Child’s play was a crucial reminder that nothing about Chucky works without Mancini.
Unlike some of the more recent films that have followed the doll and sometimes his bride Tiffany as the main characters, Chucky follows queer middle school student Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur), who lives in the small town of Hackensack, New Jersey. This happens to be the birthplace of Charles Lee Ray, the serial killer whose soul inhabits the Good Guys doll named Chucky.
Switching from the childish protagonist to a young teenager in the lead role is a big reason the show works so well. At the core, Chucky is a teen dramedy about school difficulties, bullies, first crushes, and even confrontation with sexuality – something that Mancini, an openly gay man, is far more adept at handling than many teenage shows in recent times.
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 on Devon (Björgvin Arnarson), a true crime podcaster with a paranoid cop mother; his overworked but generally good-natured cousin Junior (Teo Briones); and Junior’s girlfriend Lexi – played by Alyvia Alyn Lind, who is almost as gleefully cruel as Chucky in the first few episodes. On its own, the show’s characters would be convincing enough to entertain fans for a 10-episode Netflix show, but the twist comes when Jake Chucky buys at a flea market and the doll reveals his thirst for blood.
The addition of a sentient murder doll, especially one as mean and cheerful as Chucky, makes Mancini fuel the emotions into pure melodrama, which makes all of the usual teenage anxiety topics a little funnier. The show’s tyrant is meaner than most. (Instead of naming Jake, she dresses up as his dead parents for Halloween.) Jake is stranger than the average teen film outcast – he makes sculptures out of dismembered doll parts, which seems to be his only hobby. And Hackensack’s adults are comedically incompetent. Additionally, in a fantastic play that feels lifted straight out of a 1990s sitcom, Chucky gets one ridiculously exaggerated murder per episode – though at the end of episode 4 (the last one given to critics in advance). it seems like his devious antics are at the center of the story.
One of the secret ingredients that made Chucky so famous and that has made his films so entertaining over the past five decades is the voice behind him: Brad Dourif, returning for this series. Dourif (Grimnir Wormtongue in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films) has provided the doll’s voice since the first film, and he’s exceptional at capturing the perfect mix of venom and comedic timing. The evil doll idea might not be hard to sell, but the cheerful nastiness Dourif delivers on every line has made Chucky an icon, and it works just as well on series format.
Not only is the show ridiculously fun to watch, but it also fits in perfectly with the Child’s Play series as the 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 films, which almost feels like a return to form, but the show also offers enough backstory that the other films don’t necessarily have to be seen. In fact, the show even weaves in a backstory on Charles Lee Ray, via a sitcom-style B-plot that feels like one Young Sheldon Remake with Hannibal Lecter.
In the first four episodes, Mancini’s most impressive feat is balancing Chucky between serious subjects and ridicule, while always fun to watch. The show conveniently alternates between intricate teenage romances, questions about how trauma affects young adults, and Chucky’s hilariously bloody murders. Chucky herself also takes care of difficult topics. He has already proven himself to be a vocal ally of Jake’s weirdness, and is reminiscent of the child he and Tiffany had Seeds of Chucky – a child with a male and a female side, whom Chucky calls a “gender fluid”. Chucky is even ready to assist his allies with actions, despite being characteristically grueling actions.
Of course, it’s hilarious for Chucky to refer to himself as “not a monster” for supporting queerness despite being a monster for so many other reasons. But the doll uses Jake’s weirdness to make him feel isolated, even from the largely supportive people around him. It’s a fascinating route to explore for the show in the first few episodes, and an unusual route, either for a teen dramedy or slasher movies about killer dolls. It’s all appealingly silly, and for long-time fans of the franchise, this show is sure to kill.
ChuckyThe eight-part first season premiered on Syfy and USA Network on October 12 at 10 p.m. ET.