REVIEW: Chucky (SYFY and USA Series)

After three decades and seven movies, the Chucky franchise has finally arrived on TV. Once again helmed by creator Don Mancini (this time acting as showrunner and director of some episodes), Chucky picks up where the previous film left off while introducing a whole new slew of characters for the killer doll to terrorize. Having seen the first four episodes, Chucky feels right at home on TV. These first episodes are heavy on the new elements, holding back many returning plotlines and characters until later in the season. But the new characters and stories introduced are more than enough to hook audiences. And the show lives up to its campy, gory reputation. Things get off to a slightly slow start, but as the show progresses, the tension only gets higher. And it’s so much fun. (4 out of 5 wands.)

Chucky
Created by Don Mancini
An idyllic American town is thrown into chaos after a vintage ‘Good Guy’ doll turns up at a suburban yard sale. Soon, everyone must grapple with a series of horrifying murders that begin to expose the town’s deep hypocrisies and hidden secrets. Meanwhile, friends and foes from Chucky’s past creep back into his world and threaten to expose the truth behind his mysterious origins as a seemingly ordinary child who somehow became this notorious monster.

In many ways, the first four episodes of Chucky almost feel like their own standalone movie. They require shockingly little knowledge of the franchise’s lore, instead choosing to focus on a new story with a new cast of characters. Sometime after the events of 2017’s Cult of Chucky, Jake (Zackary Arthur), a bullied teen with a rough home life, buys Chucky (Brad Dourif) at a yard sale. Jake quickly learns that not only is Chucky alive, but he has a hefty blood-lust. And then, predictably, Chucky sets out on a reign of terror, upending this small town by pitting neighbor against neighbor, all while attempting to sway Jake to the dark side in the process. And, in that regard, the show works very well. It’s a bit slow-paced, sure, but it’s never boring. And once things get moving, the action and tension just keep building and building.

At its heart, Chucky is about a lonely outcast trying to find his way in a cruel world. You can kind of see how Mancini’s time working on NBC’s Hannibal might’ve influenced his Chucky work. Because the way that Chucky tries to manipulate Jake and feed on his insecurities bears a lot in common with the way Hannibal Lecter manipulated Will Graham in Hannibal. This manipulation is my favorite part of these episodes, and there’s a lot of it. Fear not, though, because there’s still plenty here for those craving more traditional Chucky fare. Chucky gruesomely kills plenty of people, and the show hints at there being a bigger reason for Chucky being in this town than simply terrorizing some teenagers. It remains too early to tell exactly how well any of this will be executed. But these first few episodes certainly get the series off to a great start.

However, these first few episodes also feel like a prelude to a bigger story. A lot of the recent marketing material has focused on the return of characters like Tiffany, Nica, Andy, and Kyle. But none of them have appeared yet. So, it often feels like the show is biding time until they arrive, laying the groundwork and building up the world around the new characters before the legacy ones arrive to shake things up. For new fans, this won’t necessarily be an issue. But for older fans, the waiting game does get a little taxing. But all of the new stuff is good enough that it’s not too bad. I’m very eager to see exactly how the show combines what’s been happening in these first four episodes with all of the returning characters and plotlines. That’s where I think the show will really find its footing.

CHUCKY — “Death by Misadventure” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Chucky, Zackary Arthur as Jake Wheeler — (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/SYFY)

A benefit of Chucky‘s expanded runtime is the ability for the show to dive deep into its characters. Jake is an openly gay high school student who’s endlessly bullied by those around him. So, it’s kind of ironic when he befriends perpetual-killer-doll bully, Chucky. The dynamic between Jake and Chucky drives much of the show’s conflict. Chucky tries to turn Jake into a killer while Jake tries to hold onto his morality. It’s a new, compelling hook to the franchise, and Arthur and Dourif play it well. Some of Jake’s best scenes are with Devon (Björgvin Arnarson), Jake’s new friend/love interest. The two initially bond over Devon’s true-crime podcast, which Mancini and the writers use as a conduit for exposition. But it’s the early stages of romance underpinning their relationship that makes them so enjoyable to watch, and Arthur and Arnarson bring a sweet authenticity to these scenes.

Then there’s Junior (Teo Briones), Jake’s cousin, and his girlfriend, Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind). At first, the duo seems like one-dimensional caricatures of cartoon villains. They’re almost unbelievably cruel to Jake, as are many of the other characters. But the real joy here is watching their backstories unfold as the episodes progress. There ends up being quite a bit of nuance in why they act the way they do. I’m not sure I’d call them likable, per se, but I think that’s the point. All of these characters exist in a sort of gray area between good and even. And I love that kind of nuance. And both Briones and Lind lean into this nuance to great results.

CHUCKY — “Death by Misadventure” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Zackary Arthur as Jake Wheeler, Chucky, Teo Briones as Junior Wheeler, Alyvia Alyn Lind as Lexy Cross — (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/SYFY)

As for Chucky, he’s as foul-mouthed and violent as ever. Voiced once again by Brad Dourif, every time Chucky is on screen, it feels like the return of a long-lost friend. And the puppetry at play is as good as it’s ever been. I mean the things the puppeteers and the VFX team accomplish with their work are beyond impressive. While most of Chucky stands on its own, it does assume the audience knows a fair amount about Chucky the character already. Bits and pieces of exposition come throughout the episodes, but not much. This lack of exposition is nice. It means the show doesn’t beat around the bush pretending Chucky isn’t a killer doll the way that some of the movies do. Plus, there are plenty of references to Chucky’s past adventures that are sure to thrill longtime fans.

There is, however, a backstory hinted at throughout the first four episodes that looks like it’s gonna explore why Chucky is the way that he is. And while it’s done relatively well, it doesn’t feel necessary. I’m not entirely sure anybody wanted an origin story for Chucky. Characters like Chucky work because you don’t know a lot about their past. So, I don’t feel like there’s much to be gained by taking away that mystery. To be fair, the show does use this backstory as a way of tying Chucky and Jake together, with Jake’s journey mirroring Chucky’s. The third episode, in particular, accomplishes this idea the best. But I still feel like there were other ways to execute Chucky’s manipulation of Jake.

CHUCKY — “Death by Misadventure” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Zackary Arthur as Jake Wheeler, Chucky — (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/SYFY)

All in all, Chucky is off to a great start. It’s not perfect, to be sure. Some of the dialogue feels rather realistic (though this improves in later episodes), it takes a couple of episodes for things to properly get moving, and some of the periphery characters could still use some development. However, the show works far more than it doesn’t. The new cast members play off of Chucky brilliantly, and it’s an absolute delight watching Chucky spar off of these characters. The acting is great, the visuals and the atmosphere are immediately captivating. And the sheer amount of gore the show includes is also delightful. It’s not quite as gory as some of the recent movies, but it’s quite respectable – and occasionally shocking.

I’m not sure the show will win over anyone who actively dislikes the movies. But it’s sure to please long-time fans with its continuation of the franchise’s storylines while also remaining accessible enough to entice new viewers. I’m excited to see how all of the returning characters and plotlines mesh with everything that happens in these early episodes. But until then, there’s a lot about Chucky to like. And it’s a definite must-watch.

4 out of 5 wands.

New episodes of Chucky premiere Tuesdays at 10pm on SYFY and USA.

This review also ran on Geek Vibes Nation.

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