Secrets of Sulphur Springs

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

“It’s nothing but a pile of old wood and bad memories sitting in a backwater swamp,” grouses Bennett Campbell (senior), wondering why his son would buy Sulphur Springs’ rickety Tremont Hotel. “The past belongs in the past.”

But here, the past doesn’t stay put. Like the water from this Louisiana town’s namesake water feature, history—even dark history—tends to burble up.

Bennett’s grandson, Griffin, along with Griffin’s intrepid friend, Harper, aren’t just wading in the region’s history: They’re positively swimming in it.

Back to the Phantasmic Future

The Tremont comes with an impressive collection of creaky floors, spider webs and, oh yeah, a secret room. Also, it’s supposedly home to a ghost—a girl named Savannah who disappeared 30 years ago.

And then, of course, there’s the time-traveling bunker in the basement. You’re not going to find that in your average bed & breakfast, are you?

Griffin and Harper discover that the bunker leads directly to the Tremont as it was 30 years before (strange coincidence, that), when the Tremont was shiny and new, and a kids’ summer camp was associated with it.  

There, Griffin and Harper meet pubescent versions of their parents. Griffin discovers that his dad, Ben, was surprisingly chill back in the day—not tense and weird like he is now. Harper, meanwhile, learns that her mom, Jess, was weird and tense as a child; she’s mellowed out quite a bit these days, it seems.

Both kid-Ben and kid-Jess were involved in something of an awkward, adolescent relational triangle with—you guessed it—Savannah. Ben liked Savannah. Jess liked Ben. And Jess and Savannah didn’t like each other at all.

Oh, and here’s another little wrinkle from the past to present. Not knowing that their kids are visiting their past selves at the Tremont camp, both adult Ben and adult Jess insist they never went to camp as children.

Their parents, it would seem, are lying to them. Maybe that’s why Griffin and Harper feel free to lie so often themselves.

The Haunted Mouse House

Secrets of Sulphur Springs is a TV-PG departure for the Disney Channel, famous for its innocuous all-ages sitcoms, where kids (mostly) behave, parents are (mostly) pretty good role models and problems are (mostly) solved by the end of the episode. This is a darker, more mysterious sort of show—and a drama at that—where the family dynamics have a few more issues.

Now, it’s not as if Secrets is channeling Stranger Things, Netflix’s wildly successful and fairly problematic sci-fi yarn. This is still a Disney show aimed squarely at kids. For the most part, it still feels reasonably navigable. There’s obviously no sex here—just a little age-appropriate romance. We don’t see explicit violence, either (though as we learn more about what happened to Savannah, that could potentially change). Foul language is pretty non-existent. And remember, our protagonists are about the same age as most of us were when we realized that our own parents weren’t perfect—and that they led lives long before they had us. And I’d hope that this show, as it uncovers its secrets, will justify some of its more mature content with a more mature, if still happy, ending.

But our two heroes do some pretty un-heroic things by most parental standards. They habitually lie to their folks, keeping their own bevy of secrets as they do. They skip school on occasion. They bribe siblings. Just by hanging out together, Griffin and Harper are disobeying their parents, who expressly forbid it.

Their parents still, for the most part, mean well. But they also feel a little more clueless than they ought and are clearly incapable of reining in their curious children. And, of course, they do their own share of lying.

That’s the core cake that’s been baked here. And that’s before you spread on Secrets’ supernatural frosting: a ghost that seems to sing creepily and cause many a cold spot in the Tremont’s drafty old rooms.

Secrets of Sulphur Springs is clearly well named. We see plenty of them at work here. But as far as the show’s family friendliness goes, let’s spoil the secret: This series requires just a bit more pause than most Disney shows.

Episode Reviews

Jan. 22, 2020: “Time to Face the Music”

Griffin’s grandfather shows up unexpectedly—much to his own son’s discomfort. And as twin siblings Wyatt and Zoey try to figure out how to capture the Tremont Hotel’s ghost on video, Griffin and Harper go back to the past to figure out what their parents are hiding. And they find themselves on the eve of the camp’s talent show.

Harper and Griffin learn that Ben (Griffin’s dad) kinda liked Savannah, while Harper’s mom Jess—who had a crush on Ben—didn’t like Savannah at all. “I think this place would be a whole lot nicer if she would like, go away,” Jess confesses to Harper (whom she believes is just a friend, of course). They also get a bit of backstory on the strained relationship Ben has with his own father: After Ben as a child begins playing one of his own songs on guitar for the camp talent show, he freezes up when he spots his father. Afterward, the elder Bennett scolds Ben, telling him that he embarrassed both of them up there. We see a lot of tension from both Ben senior and junior throughout the episode.

Griffin and Harper skip school to go back in the past—bribing Harper’s brother to cover for them. (Both sets of parents find out about the ruse, though, and ground their children.) We’re reminded that Griffin and Harper have been forbidden from hanging out anyway. (“It seems those two are bad influences on each other,” Griffin’s mother tells Jess.) The two kids continue to hide the truth about the bunker.

People talk about the ghost and feel cold spots. We hear about a camp dance (and see someone apparently plotting to spoil the dance for someone else). Kids complain about their parents, both when they’re kids and as adults.

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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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