Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: Goosebumps "The Girl Who Cried Monster"

Honestly, I don't need to analyze the plot to this episode. I probably should, for the sake of thoroughness, but I'll freely admit that doing so in detail would be a waste of time for us both. I've got laundry to do and you only have so much time to read this during your bathroom break.

Plot/Themes
It riffs on "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," with the twist ending that the girl crying monster is also a monster.

Boom. Done.

You're smart. You get it. I shouldn't have to go into any more detail there if you actually read the Recap or watched the episode.

So now I can focus my efforts on an aspect of this episode that is worth talking about in detail: The world-building.

With the twist ending that the Dark family is made up of monsters, we can basically throw out everything we thought we knew and look at the story from a different angle.

Monsters exist. And they have the ability to disguise themselves as humans to live among them. The humans don't know about monsters, and neither do the monsters, by and large.

The Dark family is determined to remain the only monsters in town, raising a very simple question.

Why?

Unfortunately, we only have the glimpses of this underground monster culture, but it's enough to form a, quite frankly, disturbing hypothesis.

Let's go back to the quotes from the end of the episode about why they don't want any monsters in town.

Lucy: "Because they might tell other people about us."
Randy: "And they'd be frightened, and they'd chase us away."

Question: Why would other monsters tell the humans?

Could it simply be that all monsters distrust other monsters, and would rather kill their own kind than risk having their own true natures revealed? Possibly. But... I have a theory. Feel free to disagree, but this is how I make sense of the situation.

Mr. Mortman typically eats crickets and spiders. Gross, to be sure, but then again, look at foreign food. There are plenty of cultures that eat things that we Americans (or Canadians, as the case may be) might consider "gross," including plenty of cultures that eat bugs.

He certainly does threaten to eat Lucy, but look at that situation. Somebody snuck into the library and took a picture of him in monster form. And he doesn't know why. And importantly, he doesn't know who. It's definitely possible that he started snarling and hammily taunting Lucy (like that "fast food" crack) because he was hoping to scare whoever this was away from the library forever.

But then he discovered that it was Lucy who snapped that picture. So he shows up, speaking softly and calmly, politely asking to come inside. Is it so far out of the realm of possibility that Mr. Mortman simply wanted to apologize to Lucy away from the prying eyes of the neighbors? Perhaps explain that he, at the risk of sounding trite, is a nice monster who doesn't actually eat people? Remember the monster from Frankenstein. All he wanted was to live in peace.

But then where does this leave the Darks? They discover that Mortman is a monster, then... Actually, no. They find circumstantial evidence (when Mortman lied that their house was on his way home) and made the snap decision to invite him over to be eaten.

And why is this? Simple. The Darks are serial killers.

Why do they keep making meatballs? Because they keep kidnapping and killing people for food.

Why do they want to keep other monsters away? Because other monsters might decide to warn the humans. After all, if humans get the idea that all monsters are evil, then they might come after other monsters in the area.

The Darks are a family of monster serial killers and Mr. Mortman was an innocent victim who merely committed the crime of being a really creepy guy.

I firmly believe that our protagonist is a villain. Although I realize that my theory doesn't explain why Lucy told her human friend, Aaron, that Mr. Mortman was a monster if they want to keep monsters' existence a secret....

Characters
Lucy Dark (Deborah Scorsone)
When I started recapping this show, I mentioned how my teacher actively tried to keep girls from reading Goosebumps books, preferring to recommend Sweet Valley High, Babysitters Club, Boxcar Children, et cetera, which feature some of the most boring and bland female protagonists ever.

Lucy Dark is the antithesis of bland. She's a fun character to watch. She's one of my favorite Goosebumps protagonists simply because she sidesteps the usual pitfalls of trying to create a female character like this.

Too often, writers overthink their female characters. And in an attempt to avoid being sexist, they end up creating boring role models, or Mary Sues, or characters that make such a big deal out of how non-"girly" they are, which is becoming a stereotype in and of itself.

But Lucy Dark just is. She teases her brother, laughs with her best friend, lets her imagination run wild... Basically, she seems like a real kid. And in a world where so many books, TV shows, and films struggle so hard to create and develop female characters, Lucy Dark effortlessly rises to at least the top ten protagonists in this show.

Helping matters is the actress's performance. She might not be winning any Emmys, but her delivery of "Hi Dad! There's a monster at the library!" made me genuinely laugh, rather than my usual ironic laughter at how silly this show can be, and she effortlessly runs the full gamut of emotion, ranging from laughing with her best friend to being scared out of her wits at the creepy man at the door.

And yet, somehow, this is the only thing this actress is known for. At teh very least, this is the only thing on Deborah Scorsone's IMDb page. And I am utterly baffled by this.

Canadian child actors usually get cast in multiple things, from lead roles in Degrassi to voices on The Magic School Bus to minor roles in made-for-TV movies. She has only one credit to her name?

I mean, sure, acting's not for everybody... but there must have been offers.

Aaron (Christopher Tuah)
Goosebumps, as a series, provides a plethora of "black best friend" characters. Out of all of them (and out of all the "best friend" characters in general), Aaron is one of the most boring and might contribute the least to the plot. You know what? I’m adding “boring black best friend” to my review checklist.

Randy Dark (Brandon Bone)
Brandon... is... not very good. Thankfully, his lines are mostly panicked screaming, which he can manage.

Mr. Dark (Dan Lett)
A bit of a goober, contrasting the monster within. One of many dorky dads this show has brought us, and probably one of the dorkiest.

Mrs. Dark (Lynne Cormack)
I have no idea why cormack delivers her lines like a 1950s housewife in an old Lysol commercial. I wouldn't be surprised if it was an intentional choice to provide contrast for her monstrous reveal... but it rings cheesy at best and false at worst. She's playing for the cheap seats in closeup, and it simply doesn't work for me.

This is going to sound weird, but in a few scenes, Deborah Scorsone acts circles around the grown adults playing her parents.

Mr. Mortman (Eugene Lipinski)
Lipinski is quite a talented bit actor who has had minor roles in Octopussy, Superman IV, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and played a friend of Rosie O'Donnell's character in Harriet the Spy, which, appropriately enough, was about a little girl who liked to watch people without their knowledge. Larger roles of his include December on Fringe, Al Crenshaw on The Romeo Section, and Visser Three/Victor Trent on Animorphs.

The guy is basically too good for this show, and he truly knocks it out of the park with his performance. He definitely gets the metaphorical subtext of his role and delivers a performance that would work perfectly as a creepy pedophile on Law and Order: SVU.

And yeah, take away the supernatural elements, and you can easily turn this into a story about a girl accidentally walking in on a librarian and his very illegal porn collection. Which was a very bold choice for a show rated Y7, but it paid off.

Visuals
The transformations are accomplished on the cheap by cutting away during the actual transformation sequences, but there's some good makeup to go around, especially Mortmonster.

Seriously, this is top-notch for TV.
Barking Dogs: 0
I wouldn't be surprised if the Darks ate all the dogs in the neighborhood.

Boring Black Best Friend: 1
Aaron, possibly the ultimate example in the whole show

Child Grabbing: 0
Though not for lack of trying on Mortman's part.

Foliage POV Cam: No

Murder
Protagonists' Murder Count: 1
Total Murder: 1 librarian

Red Paint: No

Werewolves: Mentioned

X-Files Shout-Out: No

Final Thoughts
One of the more genuinely disturbing episodes, even if you don't believe that the Dark family are the true villains. It's tightly written with genuine tension, even if there are one or two holes in the internal logic of the world-building.

Next time, the Goosebumps series adapts one of the many camp-based books. Although you could argue that most of these stories are pretty campy. See you then!

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