Paul Asay

TV Series Review

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Comic strip creator Walt Kelly first rolled this now-familiar phrase in 1970, in conjunction with his character Pogo. But its meaning perhaps flourishes the best in a horror story. From Night of the Living Dead (which turned us into zombies) to The Walking Dead (which suggests we’re far worse than zombies), the monsters in our midst don’t always suck blood or howl at the moon: Sometimes they punch a clock or sell insurance. Sin and circumstance can make monsters of us all.

That’s the impetus behind Hulu’s new anthology horror series, Monsterland, where fantastical monsters and banal monstrosities sit elbow to elbow.

Creature Teachers

Because Monsterland is an anthology show (loosely based on Nathan Ballingrud’s tale, “North American Lake Monsters: Stories”), we don’t have a real plot thread to trace here. While some stories feature cameos from characters featured in previous ones, each episode stands alone: New settings (for which each episode is named), new players, new crises to navigate.

But thematically, Monsterland features plenty of series consistency. Most of the locales are depressed and depressing, where decay and desperation walk hand in hand. Most of the main human characters are at life’s lowest ebb, trapped by circumstance and willing to consider almost anything to get out. And most of the monsters … well, they’re often around as facilitators, you might say, willing to lend a hand or burst a chest to push the story along.

Monsterland toys with social issues, too—the monsters (the show tells us) that plague our very real society: racism, sexism, and festering rage that the internet can birth and feed.

It should be also be noted that some of the show’s issue-driven “monsters” have a decidedly leftward lean. The first episode tackles abortion access—suggesting that had abortion been more widely available, the show wouldn’t have taken its dark path. But for those who believe that abortion is more than a routine procedure—that it snuffs out a defenseless innocent—it’s hard to buy into the episode’s monstrous conclusions.

Get Out

This isn’t to say that Monsterland is a two-dimensional show only interested in pushing a handful of issues. That’d be selling it short. The characters we meet are nuanced and sympathetic. We may disagree with the awful decisions they make, but we can often see how they’d get there.

Those qualities, however, don’t ward off this show’s problems any more than an invisible fence would keep King Kong penned in.

This TV-MA show can get downright disgusting. People die in horrible ways. Monsters (both human and otherwise) do monstrous things. Blood, skin and body parts can all be shed.

Sex can be a bigger issue than you’d expect in a horror anthology, too. And language, of course, can be pretty terrifying all on its own.

Oh, and did I mention that this show is downright dispiriting? It’s dark and murky and feels just as sour and bleak as a 24-hour news binge can feel. Complex characters? This show has ‘em. But it apparently ran out of budget to buy any hope.

Episode Reviews

Oct. 2, 2020: “Port Fourchon, Louisiana”

A waitress struggles with what to do with her troubled 3-year-old daughter. But when she makes an acquaintance with a strange young man—one whom has a number of very disturbing secrets stashed away in the back of his station wagon—her life takes a darker turn.

The waitress, Toni, was initially planning to abort the child. In flashback, we see her lament (with two friends) her inability to get a real abortion, so she lies down on a couple of towels to allow one of her pals to perform an illegal one. (The friend uses a medieval-like spiked instrument and promises Toni that it’ll hurt like anything.) During the procedure, though, Toni either has second thoughts or forces the procedure to stop because of the pain.

The baby, now a 3-year-old girl whom Toni calls Jack, throws violent fits: Toni’s daycare provider kicks the child out after Jack bites the mailman. Jack is covered with blood, and Toni hoses her off in a wading pool with a hose. (We see her scream and kick and pound on her mother’s back, too.) When asked what the child’s problem might be, Toni says, “I think she know nobody want her. Not me, not her daddy, nobody. She’s mad at the whole world for making her get born.”

A man drowns a woman during a vicious struggle, then takes a knife to the woman and starts carving across her forehead. (He’s a serial killer, the show suggests, and he keeps his victims’ skins in boxes in his car.) He’s injured in the fight, receiving a grotesque gash along the side of his face. He sutures himself up with a hooked needle and thread from a toolbox. Someone suggests that the killer might be “the devil himself,” with an inexhaustible desire for pleasure and pain.

Another man hits both Jack and Toni, knocking Toni unconscious and nearly causing Jack to drown. (Toni comes to and finds her daughter floating face down in the bathtub she was playing in.) A rat gets caught in a trap, and we see it struggle. Another waitress tosses it in a bucket of water and tells Toni to “let it drown.” It does.

We see Toni in her underwear. Out of the view of the camera, Toni takes off that underwear and steps into a shower with another man. (We see his back and her shoulders, but nothing more.) The two kiss and later share a bed (apparently naked). Toni sits watching TV with a guy who moves his hand to her crotch. (Any contact is shielded from the camera by Toni’s leg.)

Someone drinks, perhaps to excess. Someone’s grandmother is called a “Jesus freak,” suggesting that she’d never loan Toni money for an abortion. A preacher on the radio talks about how “no one can hide from God.” Characters say the f-word 11 times and the s-word six times. We also hear people say “d–n” and “h—.” Jesus’ name is abused three times.

[Spoiler Warning] Toni eventually picks up her sleeping daughter and places her in someone else’s car, driving away crying and smiling.

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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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