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The Chucky Show revisits one of horror’s most controversial sequels

Chucky’s first season started admirably independently. While the concept and classic design of a killer doll voiced by Brad Dourif remain, the character is relegated to a new setting with a new cast. Bullied gay middle-schooler Jack Zachary Arthur finds the vintage doll at a garage sale, and chaos ensues. It feels like a soft reboot of sorts, carefully weaving in characters and other plot points from the previous seven films around the edges of Jack’s story.

After laying the groundwork, however, the show’s recently concluded second season took a much more direct approach to the franchise’s own history, choosing to address three decades of continuity and contrasting tones. And it all comes together in one of the most compelling TV shows of 2022 a whirlwind meta horror-comedy that unpacks the franchise’s history while exploring our relationships with our parents with surprising maturity and nuance.

Still overseen by the creator, writer, and sometimes director Don Mancini, the series has proven surprisingly flexible, constantly evolving to meet new cultural moments as the birth of the ’80s slasher boom gave way to something more self-aware and playful. Its current form as a TV show is as emblematic of the era as any previous film, and the second season’s most poignant development is how Mancini and his cohorts tackle some of the franchise’s most controversial installments. It may not always work, but it’s never less than interesting to watch.

After the first season, the series replaces its surviving teenage trio Jake, Devon Bergevin Arntson, and Lexi Alivia Allyn Lind in a Catholic boarding school. Under the watchful eye of strict nuns and a self-important headmaster, they find themselves trapped in an unfamiliar environment, much like 1991’s Child’s Play 3. That film jumps forward in time, recasting Chucky’s childhood nemesis Andy Barkley as a troubled teenager. From the care of his single mother to various foster families, and finally, the military academy that serves as the main setting of the movie.

Child’s Play 3 is a stale film, notable today for how jarring its pre-Columbine school gun violence is. Evolving over time, the 1998 follow-up Bride of Chucky looked away from self-aware screams and leaned into comedy, giving Chucky a comedic foil in old flame Tiffany Valentine Jennifer Tilley, who uses a voodoo book for dummies. With Andy Barkley abandoning the character and fueling the absurdity, the film ends with Tiffany suddenly giving birth to the doll, the result of a fast-forward voodoo pregnancy that followed her and Chuckie’s earlier confirmation that they were both anatomically correct and, uh, functional.

The next film to follow that doll-child, Seed of Chucky, has long remained the most controversial of the franchise. A follow-up to Paparazzi and South Park in the early 2000s, the film marks Mancini’s directorial debut and is more of a Hollywood meta-comedy than a conventional horror film. As a boy, Glenn, Chucky, and a girl, Glenda, are treated individually by Tiffany, the child’s gender dysphoria manifests as distinct personalities. Whereas Glenn is timid and peaceful, Glenda embodies the sinister trope of the cross-dressing murderer, albeit in a much more sympathetic light than other examples of the genre. The way the film resolves this plot point is complicated, to say the least. In one of the franchise’s most daring meta-casting gags, Jennifer Tilly’s character Tiffany takes on the body of an actress she idolizes: Jennifer Tilly. She then gives birth to red-headed twins, who inhabit the Glen personality and the Glenda personality separately.

As of Chucky’s second season, the franchise’s response to the mainstream rejection of Chucky’s seed has relegated it to the background. The 2013 and 2017 direct-to-DVD sequels Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky were originally soft reboots of the TV series before they became its own soft reboot, taking a back-to-basics approach that finds a Chucky doll to threaten a new character, Nika Pierce. Gets Fiona Dourif, whom he eventually possesses. Tilly has a small role in the next film, again going by Tiffany Valentine. Nika notes that Tiffany bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Tilly; It’s simultaneously an eye-opener for fans of Seed of Chucky and a largely extraneous, overlooked detail for those who either haven’t seen the film or dislike its broad tonal departures. There are no glimpses of Glenn or Glenda until Chucky’s first season when the killer doll tells Jack that she has a gender-fluid baby, which he accepts because she’s not a monster.

In its determination to harmonize every aspect of the franchise, however, Chucky no longer leaves Chucky’s seed as a fun background reference. A significant portion of the second season is devoted to addressing how Tiffany has survived as long as Jennifer Tilly. Who manages his finances? Who answers his mail? Are the police suspicious? These questions and more that no one asked are belatedly and ironically answered, culminating in an utterly confused fourth episode devoted entirely to a murder mystery within Tilly’s mansion, in which those who knew Tilly before his takeover stage an intervention. Her sister, Meg Tilley, is there, as is her friend Sutton Strack from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. So, beloved actors Joe Pantoliano and Gina Gerson, co-starred with Jennifer Tilly in the Wachowskis’ masterful pre-Matrix crime thriller Bound.

The Murder Mystery episode seems almost separate from the rest of the series, with no cuts to the Catholic school plot that serves as the main story of the season. Chucky himself does not appear, except for a jokey bookend segment as host, and the episode visits the fictional deaths of several non-fictional people, not seen since Chucky’s seed claimed the lives of Redman who played himself and Brittney. Spears who didn’t. But most importantly, it reintroduces Glenn and Glenda as non-binary adults, both played by Lachlan Watson. And as evidenced by Watson’s performance as the series’ absurd ambitions, Glenn and Glenda become central characters for the rest of the series and its themes.

Key to the evolution of the Child’s Play franchise is the increased visibility of queer narratives. We see this metaphorically in Nick’s possession, which Chucky uses to rekindle his relationship with Tiffany. We also see this in the first episode of the TV series, in his father’s difficult relationship with artsy Jack, a struggling mechanic Devon Sawa, wearing a large goatee, unwilling to accept his son’s sexuality as anything more than a phase. The return of Glenn and Glenda is a natural fit, allowing Mancini to revisit the ending of Chucky’s Seed.

In a 2019 essay for Little White Lies, Sam Bodrozan wrote, Mancini offers a poignant summation that countless ostensibly serious films about gender fail to articulate. The qualities and values we develop are separate from but should also be seen in the context of our parents; Their relationship with our queerness may not quite match. This is perhaps best seen through Chuckie’s search for Glenn and Glenda and their mother’s decision to keep them in the dark about their true origins. They’ve never met their father and don’t know he’s a killer doll. They don’t know that they themselves were single dolls, and they have no idea that the woman who raised them is a separate person occupying Jennifer Tilly’s body. To the world and to themselves, they are Tilly twins. But the Tilly twins suffer from nightmares and an inescapable feeling that something is missing – the result of parental decisions that are intertwined with widespread adult failure throughout the series.

Although Jack’s father seems more agreeable when sober when drunk his intolerance escalates to verbal and physical abuse. In the second season, Jake comments that maybe they could have made it someday, but the opportunity never came: Chucky kills Jake’s father in the show’s first episode, hoping to prompt Jake to kill the children who mock him himself. As for Vulture, Louis Pitzman observes, the show is about coming out, literally and subtextually, as Jake works hard to suppress his inner urges. The series juxtaposes Jack’s exploration of his sexual identity with Jack’s exploration of his killer instinct, but in a 2021 twist, it depicts both without the shame that traditionally colors such metaphors.

While none of the other adults are as openly hostile as Jake’s father, they’re rarely good. Jack lives with his uncle played by Devon Sawao, San Got, who relentlessly pushes his own son Teo Briones to hit the tracks and make it into an Ivy League college. Jake’s friend Lexi is often at odds with her own mother Barbara Allyn Woods, the town’s narcissistic former mayor. There are good parents, but they are sent alongside the bad ones as part of Chucky’s ultimate goal of being the sole influential authority in the children’s lives. A positive adult figure needs the opportunity to intervene and act, and although the children face a few, people like Chucky or even the headmaster of the school Devon Sawa for the third time, now wearing big glasses win with much more determination in the pursuit of their goals.

Even if the second season is overcrowded with all its ideas, characters, and personalities, Chucky is unlike any other show. With a sharp examination of itself as a franchise in our modern age and a broader commentary on alienation in our modern age, it takes an impressively balanced look at how children grow up with adults shaping them, all the while still having a wickedly fun time.






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