For those of us who grew up in the 90s, RL Stine’s Goosebumps books were childhood staples. This novelist knows how to focus horror and excitement in books aimed at teenagers. He does a great job of incorporating comedy elements so the plot points aren’t terribly dark. Stine’s books were a literary phenomenon that spawned a hit TV show in the ’90s and two feature films starring Jack Black in the mid-2010s. With Goosebumps feature director Rob Lightman joining the pilot, Disney+/Hulu is taking a stab at a new Goosebumps series that promises to bring some of the same iconic characters and adventures to a new generation. The 10-episode first season was expected to be scarier than fans remembered, but it was more tedious than convincing. Instead, the show focuses on the coming of age of teenagers at the hands of terrible parents. This takes the show away from the trials and tribulations of adolescence and the joy of Stine’s work, forcing the audience to focus on the selfish crimes of dull adults.
Goosebumps was released in 1993 in the fictional coastal town of Port Lawrence. One night, a boy named Harold Biddle (Ben Coker) is home alone, feeding his pet worms and flipping through a scrapbook of Polaroid photos. When the doorbell rings, Harold wakes up from his loneliness and goes to open the door. Finding no one on the other side, he closed the door and a candle fell to the carpet. Soon, the entire house was on fire with Harold still inside.
Some 30 years after Harold’s untimely death, five students gathered around the auditorium of Lawrence Harbor High School were preoccupied with the upcoming Halloween party. Isaiah (Zach Morris) is a star quarterback, however, the pressure of earning a college football scholarship and the added pressure of his father, Ben (Leonard Roberts), are starting to weigh on him. James (Miles McKenna) is Isaiah’s best friend. Fun-loving and carefree, James is obsessed with pleasing people, especially when it comes to winning the attention of his crush. Margot (Isa Briones) is Isaiah’s next-door neighbor. Although the two had been friends for years, hostility from Isaiah’s girlfriend made things awkward.
Additionally, Margot worries about the secrets being kept from her by her parents, school counselor Colin (Rob Huebel), and her increasingly absent mother Sarah (Lexa Doig). Isabella (Ana y Puig) is the high school’s resident photographer who feels neglected at school, which leads to her lashing out. Meanwhile, Lucas (Will Price), still grieving the death of his father, keeps doing dangerous stunts to attract attention, much to the dismay of his increasingly exhausted mother, Nora ( Rachel Harris) is worried.
Although the teens all know each other, it’s not until a Halloween feast at the abandoned Beadle House that their worlds truly collide. Although the party is eventually stopped by Nathan Bratt (Justin Long), Lawrence’s new English teacher and new owner of the house, the long-buried monster is unleashed. After that fateful night, the lives of Isaiah, Margot, James, Lucas and Isabella begin to go horribly awry.
The first five episodes of Goosebumps begin on the day of a Halloween party; each chapter follows a day in the life of a different teenager. During the evening, viewers can learn more about their aspirations, family life and what they might find at Biddle Manor. However, the series premiere and second episode, “Say Cheese!” and “The Haunted Mask,” which follows Isaiah and Isabella, are disorienting and eerie. “Goosebumps” has dozens of plot points and characters, and it doesn’t mature until the third episode, “The Cuckoo Clock,” told from James’ perspective.
Fans of the Sting novels, the original series, and the Goosebumps movies will notice that many of the episode titles and themes are plagiarized directly from Sting’s extensive catalog, which is a major problem with the series. With five main characters and a narrative that flits between the present and the past, Goosebumps already has too much material to cover. Even though the show has a main villain this season, the numerous narrative hooks threaded throughout the framing story make the show feel dull and nonsensical. Instead of elevating the plot for modern teen audiences, “Goosebumps” veers from the weird to the gross, delivering more slime than shivers.
There is very little horror in this “horror” series. The CGI effects are so bad that the young people are left running around trying to solve 30 years of problems caused by their terrible parents. “Goosebumps” has the inexplicable weirdness of 2019’s “Mom,” but without Octavia Spencer’s killer performance. While Goosebumps understands that a lot of being a teenager is about finding your tribe, the show doesn’t make it specific or unique to Gen Z.
Goosebumps has been universally loved for decades, but the sheer variety of characters and storylines apparently overwhelmed the new series’ writers. Instead of paring down the show for a polished first season, perhaps focusing closely on one or two teens and expanding on it as it develops into later seasons, it’s a bunch of bland teen themes with a twist. A touch of Halloween style.
first five episodes Goosebumps will premiere on Disney+ and Hulu on October 13, New episodes are released every Friday.