Who is this delightful new child star? With his big eyes, chubby cheeks, shock of red hair and trademark dungarees he truly has warmed my heart. All he wants to do is play with his new friends. His catchphrase is, indeed, “Wanna play?” and he is a chortling japester. I guess, if pushed, I’d say he is my favourite child actor. He’s Chucky from Don Mancini’s Child’s Play franchise, now starring in a new eponymous television series on Sky/Now TV for all the family. Maybe I should actually watch it.
Good lord. It turns out that Chucky isn’t a delightful new child star at all but, much like my nephews and your worst child (you know the one), he is a murderous doll puppet brought to life by an evil curse. I gave Chucky the benefit of the doubt for the first few murders of the series because of how charmed I was by his jolly insouciance, but it becomes clear by episode two that he’s both made of plastic and probably a bad person.
Chucky harks from the 1980s, an era when this sort of thing happened all of the time. In the 1980s we were knee deep in mystically reanimated psychopaths. Thirty years after the invention of teenagers, scriptwriters realised how much they hated them and started dispatching them violently via horror film psychos. There was Freddy Krueger (fire-scarred dream invader with blades for fingers) and Jason (hockey-masked knife maniac who just won't let anything go) and even something called Leprechaun (Irish immigrant just trying to celebrate his culture). If you were a clean-cut American teen in the 1980s, you couldn't have a raucous party without things getting a bit judgmentally stabby.
This pitter patter of murderous little feet makes me feel a little broody if I'm to be honest
Well, as they say in the United States, the past is another country, let’s invade it and take all its stuff. Streaming moguls are hungry for our delicious eyeballs, and everything ever created is getting a reboot – Gossip Girl, plague, Magnum PI, hyperinflated asset bubbles, Walker Texas Ranger, fascism. It was only a matter of time before Chucky got a television programme. It isn’t the worst of such reanimated concepts, in fairness. It begins with our protagonist, a likeable teen outcast named Jake, buying a Chucky doll at a jumble sale. (“Jumble” is pronounced “yard” in American.) Jake lives with his hard-drinking, homophobic dad and spends his time in his bedroom making creepy doll sculptures when not being bullied by richer, glossier teenagers or pining for his handsome friend who makes a true-crime podcast.
Chucky doesn’t do much initially bar sit ominously watching Jake’s unhappy life. Occasionally his pupils dilate or he animatronically furrows his brow, actions that could eventually make him one of the most expressive actors of his generation. Before long he’s talking like an old-timey gangster while toddling around with a knife.
This pitter patter of murderous little feet makes me feel a little broody if I’m to be honest. It helps that so many of the cast members are mean to Jake and thus seem very stabbable. There’s the horrible dad, the smarmy rich relatives and the bullying mean girl. Jake ends up appearing at a school talent show as a ventriloquist while Chucky proceeds to lambaste the audience with hard truths. Look, he might be a reincarnated serial killer in the body of a plastic doll, but I like how he tells it like it is. He really gets the common man. He’s the kind of guy you could have a beer with. I know he kills people, but he’s going to bring back blue-collar jobs, etc.
Soon there are murders. One character dies by electrocution when Chucky vomits expressively on a sparking wire at his feet. Bits of the cat turn up, which is never a nice way for a cat to turn up. Another person expires when pushed on to the open tray of a dishwasher filled with knives. This character was innocuous enough, but in my household we believe she deserved death for filling a dishwasher so haphazardly. All in all, Chucky is darkly funny, slightly arch and enjoyably nasty. But there’s nearly eight hours of it, and we really have seen it all before.
We have also seen Superman & Lois (Saturday, BBC One) before. I can't remember when contemporary mass-market TV had its final new idea, but I suspect it was about five years ago, and I really wish someone had written it down. We saw these characters most recently in Supergirl, less recently in Smallville and, back in the 1990s, in Lois & Clark. Siegel and Shuster's Superman is more than 80 years old now, old enough to be drawn fighting Hitler back when this was uncontroversial. (Nowadays this would be considered "virtue signalling" by right-wing comic-book fans.) The fact that such heroes are still somehow relevant to our culture says something about either the durability of the concept or the slow decline of our civilisation. I haven't made my mind up yet.
Currently we live in a world in which you can tell any story you like as long as it's told through the medium of ancient superheroes. Superman & Lois, for example, is basically a warm and sentimental domestic drama. It's just one in which our hero sporadically leaves the home to punch someone in the face. Caped space vigilante Clark and hotshot reporter Lois Lane are trying to juggle busy jobs with being the parents to two teenage boys, Jordan and Jon Superman. I assume Superman is a surname, like Colman, Chapman or Spiderman. If not, it's an incredibly boastful pseudonym.
Superman is usually too overpowered a character to be hugely interesting, but if they focus on the fractures in his family life this could actually be a fun show
In fairness, Clark can freeze lakes with his breath and drop resulting icebergs on top of overheating nuclear power stations (just some first-episode shenanigans), but he’s also just been laid off by the Daily Planet and struggles to connect with Jordan, the gothier, more troubled of his sons. Meanwhile, Jordan and Jon have both failed to notice that when their dad takes his glasses off he looks remarkably like Superman, and they have a big tantrum when they figure out his secret. I imagine their minds would be further blown by a trip to Specsavers. On the other hand, it’s not unusual for teenagers to pay no attention to their parents’ jobs. My dad was in the Army, but I thought he just favoured the colour green.
In the first episode of Superman & Lois, Martha Superman, mother of Clark Superman, dies and the family leaves Metropolis and heads to the smallest town in smalltown America, Smallville. This is presented as a declining red-state dustbowl with meth labs and repossessed farms, which is a nice contemporary twist. While there, one of the twins shows signs of nascent superpowers (my powers also emerged in puberty), and they decide to stay there. A mysterious baddie appears in the midst of all this wearing some sort of mechanical supersuit, and he and the elder Superman have a big fight first in the sky and then in space. "Jesus, Dad," I'd say if I was Jordan or Jon. I largely enjoy Superman & Lois. Superman is usually too overpowered a character to be hugely interesting, but if they focus on the fractures in his family life this could actually be a fun show. Hopefully they'll hold an intervention eventually in which they confront him about why he keeps leaving the house to get into brawls.