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TV Series Review

It's hard to keep a secret these days. Even if you're a big pile of stone and shingles.

Take Anubis House, a stately old dorm at an English boarding school. Its attic and basement are firmly locked, thanks to its grumpy caretaker, Victor. It squirrels away keys and paintings and diaries behind secret panels and underneath stair risers. It may even be hiding a whole student—a girl named Joy who vanished mysteriously, someone whom the school's faculty seem all too eager to forget. For decades, Anubis has safeguarded more secrets than MI6.

But we live in an age when many people, particularly teens, are liable to confess their innermost feelings online or distribute all manner of photos via smartphone. And Anubis is positively stuffed with self-confessional teens. All that youth is bound to rub off after a while, even on a creepy stone structure such as Anubis. So, lacking the opposable thumbs needed to set up a Facebook account, Anubis begins to relinquish its secrets in the only way it knows how: bit by creepy bit.

Enter Nina, a plucky young student newly arrived from America. She's somehow gotten a scholarship to attend the boarding school (though, given what we see of the school's academic rigors, it couldn't have been too hard to get) and arrives at Anubis with a chipper smile, hoping to make friends right away. Alas, she arrives on the same day Joy disappears. "Maybe Joy's been abducted by aliens and this new girl's one of them," quips Alfie, the house's obligatory jokester. So it's a rough beginning for the new girl, but Nina quickly finds another diversion to keep her occupied: Through luck or fate, she's given a mysterious locket that proves to be the first clue to unraveling Anubis' tangled secrets.

House of Anubis, Nickelodeon's just barely occult-tinged whodunit, is a remake of a successful Dutch show. And so far, the program's combination of Goosebumps-style "thrills" and low-key playground romance have proven to be a ratings pull: The premiere won its cable timeslot for kids between the ages of 2 and 11.

It's easy to see why the series might appeal to them: House of Anubis amp up its creep factor only in a Scooby-Doo sort of way. And its high schoolers are dealing with issues more familiar with the elementary set than the 17-year-old not-quite-adult. Mostly these teens come off as campy caricatures of typical schoolyard personalities: the class clown, the schemer, the mean girl, the dreamboat. Relationships are kept pretty low-key—presumably to prevent cooties. Boyfriends and girlfriends typically hug or kiss each other on the cheek. And most importantly for the intended audience, primary protagonists prove to be brave and resourceful sorts, able to overcome any number of obstacles to reach their easy-to-understand goals.

Unfortunately, the kids' biggest obstacles are the school's stick-in-the-mud and sinister adults. Most are secretive and scheming, clearly up to no good. And even those who seem to mean well still don't look like they're worthy of full-blown trust.

No, these teens are on their own in this bungled boarding school—essentially raising themselves. And what lessons they're teaching one another! Since it's the adults who are standing in their way when it comes to solving the house's mysteries, the boarders must circumvent authority in any way they can. They steal keys, break curfew, lie and cheat—all "for the greater good."

And while Anubis' scares are strictly kid-level, there's an aura of the occult here that parents should note: The house itself is named after an ancient Egyptian god associated with mummification and the afterlife. The gremlins and goblins may or may not emerge as the series works its way through its first season, but already we've seen pictures with red-glowing eyes and mysterious messages written by an unseen hand, giving everything a giddy-yet-ghostly vibe. Previews suggest that there may be dark ceremonies taking place in Anubis' hidden rooms.


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Episode Reviews

HouseofAnubis: 122011
HouseofAnubis: 112011
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