Just Beyond

Two women talking in a yard.

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

R.L. Stine is having a moment.

Sure, you could argue that Stine’s moment really began in 1992, when his first Goosebumps book was published. But now, with his young fans out of school, shuffling bills and paying for streaming service subscriptions, Stine’s works have found their way to the big and small screen, from Goosebumps movies  to Netflix’s 2021 Fear Street films.

Now another Stine adaptation is scaring up some attention—this time on Disney+. Based on Stine’s Just Beyond graphic novels, the like-titled anthology series does what it can to offer a few laughs, a few chills and perhaps even a moral or two. But for all that, Just Beyond feels … just OK.

Stine Your Manners

Let’s get to the good stuff first.

Disney+ certainly isn’t a perfect or pristine streaming service, but it’s not about titillating or shocking its predominantly younger audience, either. Netflix took Stine’s made-for-teens Fear Street stories and turned them into salacious, grotesque, adults-only horror flicks. But Disney+ had no such, um, aspirations. Just Beyond is made for kids and younger teens—those who haven’t been exposed to the Conjuring movies since age 8. These are kinder, gentler ghost stories.

But calling them ghost stories is itself perhaps a bit misleading. Certainly ghosts of a sort do show up here. But so do aliens, witches, mad scientists and bullies. It’s a bit like The Twilight Zone or even Black Mirror in purpose, featuring cautionary tales aplenty.

A grand example: Episode Five (“Unfiltered”) features a killer app that can “improve” how you look—though turns out, that’s not such a good thing. It’s a great reminder that social media shouldn’t ever define our self-worth. And the episode is directed at an audience that could use just such a reminder.

Just Beyond willingly dives into plenty of important topics, from bullying to grief to peer pressure. And it approaches them all with the tact and modesty that most Disney fare boasts: Little violence or blood, no foul language, and certainly no graphic sexual encounters.

But while the show does offer a moral or two, we must always remember that the morals are those of the show’s creators and Disney—not yours. Families that choose to greenlight Just Beyond might also want to watch along with their kids, and insert their own values into the discussion.

Mixed Monster Messages

The inaugural episode offers a good example of the show’s strengths and weaknesses.

The episode revolves around a 14-year-old environmental activist who, after getting sent to the principal for the ninth time in a year, is suspended. Her worried parents ship her off to a boarding school for “difficult girls.” There, the girls (who all wear the same clothes and sport the same hairstyle) indeed aren’t difficult anymore. Why? They’ve been given personality lobotomies when they go for their “hair appointment.” The only thing that can snap these young ladies out of their uniformity is rock music (and perhaps, specifically, Green Day).

The episode (tellingly titled “Leave Them Kids Alone”) reflects the anxiety many parents feel when their kids become angsty, angry teens, and the anger those teens may feel about the shaky world around them and conforming to societal norms. “I think [parents] send us [to the school] ‘cause they’re scared,” the lead character says before her hair appointment. “They see us changing and growing up.”

It’s an insightful take, and it has more than a little truth in it. But let’s be honest: Even as parents have to accept that their kids won’t always be our sunny boys and girls, those kids must eventually find a balance between individual freedom and getting along with the rest of society. Our heroine’s grades had plummeted. She’d been sullen and angry. And she’d gotten sent to the principal’s office nine times. I wish the moral had gone a little deeper than, So what? You gotta be you.

Naturally, you’ve got some spiritual content to navigate in this show as well. But if that’s an issue for your family, seems unlikely that you’d have made it this far in my review at all.

As I said, Just Beyond is just fine in some respects. But you should take your time considering this show—and all its many wrinkles—before just flipping it on.

Episode Reviews

Oct. 13, 2021: “Leave Them Kids Alone”

Veronica was once a happy, sunny straight-A student. But lately, the 14-year-old has turned into a sullen environmental activist—trying to trigger schoolwide protests and spending more time in the principal’s office than in class. Her parents wonder what happened to their sweet little girl.

“That girl was living in a fantasy world,” Veronica says.

“Well, we miss her,” her mother says.

So they ship her off to Miss Genevieve’s School for Difficult Girls, which brags a spotless track record in “reforming” the students who come through Miss Genevieve’s doors. But the secret to the school’s success is a far more devious one than parents might expect.

The kids are brainwashed during their “hair appointments” (where they all receive identical flipped bobs), as a scientist/hairdresser forces them to submit to a strange, but not physically invasive, procedure. The closest the episode gets to actual violence is when the scientist picks up a wrench before trying to track down a couple of intruders. One girl mentions that she’s immune to the procedure because of a steel plate in her skull (the result of a skateboarding accident). We hear that the school is surrounded by barbed wire.

When Miss Genevieve tells Veronica that gum-chewing is not allowed in school, Veronica sticks her gum spitefully on a lamppost. As a teacher talks about the Salem witch trials, Veronica tells him that they were “victims of oppression,” and that the community “just dumped a bunch of problems on a bunch of teenage girls.” (According to historical accounts, few, if any, of those executed in Salem were teen girls.)

Veronica talks a lot about environmentalism, and she asks for a vegan option during the school’s breakfast. (The cafeteria cook apologizes that she doesn’t know what the word “vegan” means, but tells Veronica that she’s more than welcome to eat a cheeseburger at lunch.)

As mentioned in the introduction, the episode deals with a number of issues felt keenly by many families encompassing younger teens. It reminds us that music is often a catalyst for self-expression and even rebellion. Miss Genevieve is indeed an evil woman (who calls her pupils “brats”). The fact that the school has a fairly strict dress code in addition to the hair (“We want our girls focusing on studies, not on style”) could be seen as a critique on other private schools that have uniforms.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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