Few TV shows that have been so shortlived have had the impact of Eerie, Indiana. Despite only 19 episodes, its gone on to become a cult phenomenon, winning over adults and children alike. And its not hard to understand why. Its such a groundbreaking show. With a dizzying intelligence. Truly unique plot lines. And its fun too! I've never met a single person who didn't find something to enjoy from Eerie, Indiana.
The whole concept of smalltown weirdness is not a new one. In fact Eerie was beaten to the punch a year earlier by Twin Peaks. But its what it does with the idea that makes it stand out so vividly. The Creative Consultant for the show is the greatly underrated Joe Dante, the man behind similar classics like Gremlins and The Burbs. I think the idea of a not so nice interior lurking beneath the shiny exterior is something that appeals a great deal to Dante, and Eerie, Indiana may be the peak of Dante's conceits.
If all television was as good as this we'd be living in much happier times. And Dante put some of his best work into the show. In the films I mentioned, Joe Dante seems to enjoy watching small havens of utter normalcy being overturned by sinister forces. Whether it be vicious monsters or nutty neighbours, the mayhem he unleashes is always entertaining. And Eerie, Indiana is no exception.
One of the series' striking elements is the way it takes these bizarre plot lines and makes them oddly plausible. And that is no truer than in the first episode, Foreverware, a story that does a superb job of introducing us to the world of Eerie, Indiana. Try to get your heads around this! The women of Eerie seal themselves into giant tubs of Tupperware so they can stay young (and fresh!) forever. In any other TV series, watching such a plot line unfold would be monumentally stupid. In Eerie, it works!
And that's just for starters. You're constantly being knocked out by the way it courts unbelievable lunacy and turns it into great viewing. Eerie seems to be the focal point for just about every unusual happenstance in the entire world. The Losers is a particularly interesting episode where we discover a vast storage depot for lost items hidden beneath the streets of Eerie.
Eerie, Indiana was a TV series that was far, far ahead of its time. Some of the issues it chose to address were eerily(!) prescient. In particular the last episode, Reality Takes a Holiday. An episode that predates reality television (before anyone even coined the term) and The Truman Show by staging it in the real world. The town is nothing more than a set on a studio lot. And the actors play themselves. Keep an eye out for Joe Dante! The series was unexpectedly cut short after that but it was a good episode to go out on. A staggering episode that actually forces you to question your own beliefs in what you've been watching all this time.
The production staff selected a really fine cast to help the show along. Omri Katz is perfect as Marshall Teller, the new kid from New Jersey, who firmly believes Eerie is the 'centre of weirdness for the entire planet.' A quite wonderful young actor, his self-reliance never lapsed into smugness, and he was always a hero you rooted for. Justin Shenkarow is equally engaging as Simon, Marshall's sidekick. The two of them are a regular Mulder and Scully as they catalogue the oddities that come into their lives.
The rest of Marshall's family is great too. Francis Guinan is amusingly nerdy as Edgar Teller, a scientist into product testing. Mary-Margaret Humes is an appealingly sexy Mum, Marilyn Teller, a disorganised party organiser. And Julie Condra is annoying big sis Syndi Teller, a girl with the scariest eyebrows I've ever seen!
Along the way, the show picked up some additional characters. John Astin is aptly cast as Mr Radford, the owner of "World O'Stuff", the local youth hangout. Gregory Itzin is suitably slimy as Eerie's double-dealing money grubbing Mayor. And best of all is Jason Marsden as Dash X. Dash X comes into it halfway through. A boy of mystery with a head full of grey hair, he becomes an unwilling ally to Marshall and Simon during their adventures. Years ago, I found Dash X an irritation. I preferred it when it was just S & M. But in recent years, his character has grown on me. He's quite a good actor, and whether it requires him to be sharp, cynical or occasionally sympathetic, he's never less than impressive.
One of the things that's made Eerie, Indiana endure for so long is its shrewd intelligence. It never feels patronising. In fact, its a quite sharply cynical show when you stop to think about it. The Mayor even delivers a scathing speech regarding the people's ignorance of what really goes on in Eerie. They prefer not to know so they don't have to deal with it. They're happier that way!
Every Eerie fan has they're own favourite episode. Usually they vote for Reality Takes a Holiday, or the deeply creepy episode The Lost Hour, when Marsall ends up in a parallel Eerie just by setting his watch back. Mine is Just Say No Fun, an equally creepy story about a school optician who brainwashes the students into becoming model pupils when they're given an eye-test. It has quite an anarchic message the way it champions slacking and underachievement over good behaviour and schoolwork.
Eerie, Indiana has withstood the test of time. Its highly impressive the way the writers pull off feats of greatness, one after another. It never feels too juvenile. Its observations are often astute and witty. And there are plenty of joyous in-jokes and cameos for die-hard horror fans.
A superb show that ended long before its time.
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