What to Watch Verdict
“Death By Misadventure” succeeds in re-introducing Chucky for television newcomers and continuing right where Don Mancini left off with another franchise reinvigoration.
🔪 Feels shinier
🔪 Balances backstory with forward movement
🔪 Ain't a slow-burner, for sure
🔪 A lot of setup at once
As the Child’s Play franchise blazes onward with Don Mancini’s Chucky series coming to SYFY and USA, one question lingers — how will Mancini balance televised accessibility for new viewers with continuity advancement long-time fans are eager to devour? The very first episode, “Death By Misadventure,” does its best balancing act to temper such hesitations, as Chucky’s newest targets become familiar with the Charles Lee Ray his faithful fanbase know (and love).
Newbies undergo their crash course in Hackensack, N.J., massacre history — a "haven for the bizarre and criminally insane" — while even those who've seen Cult of Chucky, which ends on a wild implication of pandemonium to come, will be served a few curveballs. It’s a solid first episode that introduces new battlegrounds and mystifies lore, complete with our first body count tally as a hopeful nod to establishing a bloodthirsty pace.
There's no missing Mancini’s connection to New Jersey teenager Jake Webber (Zackary Arthur), who purchases a vintage Good Guy doll from a neighbor’s garage sale. It’s not long before Jake’s characterized as a creative outcast with an attraction to dismembering dolls and reassembling them as artistic statues, which his father (played by Devon Sawa) begrudgingly supports yet judgmentally disapproves of for financial reasons. Jake also happens to be gay — and crushes on local mystery podcast host Devon (Bjorgvin Arnarson) — although is not comfortably out, which becomes a situation that others use in derogatory displays. Metaphors aren’t subtle, as Chucky is (so far) arguably the most confident and forthcoming Mancini’s allowed his work to become. “Death By Misadventure” drops lines about young boys putting down dolls in favor of machismo templates or insistences that pursuing creative passions is economic suicide — atop the mean-spirited shame characters make Jake feel about his sexual identity.
Enter Chucky, who takes a pro-LGBTQ community stance when beholding all the societal abuse and emotional torture that Jake endures. Maybe that’s the privileged princess of Perry Middle School, Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind), creating a GoFundMe when she catches Jake slinking between periods with his Good Guy doll (it’s worth $1,500 on eBay, so he takes special care). Perhaps that’s Jake’s father taking a baseball bat to his off-putting dolly creations during another alcoholic outburst as he rambles on about paying bills without appreciation. It’s clear that Jake undergoes bullying trauma daily and is ridiculed by everyone around him — from cousin Junior’s (Teo Briones) remarks around Jake’s preferences to uncle Logan (also Devon Sawa) rubbing in all Junior’s extracurricular accomplishments, whether intentional or unaware.
The problem and ensuing conflict is, Jake has no outlet for his anger until Chucky appears. He’s alone, continually made to feel inferior. As a sensationally moody Madalen Duke needle drop lyricizes while Jake finds comfort in Chucky’s eyes amidst his demolished project debris, “this is how villains are made.”
There’s an overall glossy and more stylistically refreshed feeling about the TV series Chucky, as modern musical cues and more sitcom elements give yet another view into the Child’s Play franchise. Mancini transitions to a long-format medium and doesn’t seem to be playing any waiting games. We already hear a significant character’s voice, Chucky curses like a sailor during an impromptu talent show roast and did I even spy a massive mindf#ck as Jake googles Chucky’s — the doll’s — history, with the first hit being an IMDb link to Child’s Play (1988)?
If anything, the first episode seems to be speeding ahead without leaving much time for audiences to grab hold, but that’s not entirely a complaint. One has to assume the Seed Of Chucky misdirect that opens this first episode will lead to wee toddler Charles Lee Ray’s 1965 childhood flashbacks so we can finally enter the mind of a killer-doll-possessing murderer — that’s so much story to crave without even addressing Christine Elise’s return as Kyle or Jennifer Tilly’s resurface as Tiffany Valentine.
Everything Chucky outlines in “Death By Misadventure” points toward directions that have my mind twirling every direction given the powers Cult Of Chucky imparted upon the pint-sized pun factory. He's a cleaner, more Child’s Play 2 version of Chucky who doesn’t seem to be concealing any Frankenstein scars like in Curse Of Chucky. Mancini intentionally enhances the Pleasantville allure of Hackensack as another sandbox for Chucky to corrupt. Indignant little shits who go about their days threatening principles (Lexy) or whiskey-breathed parents who take out their aggression on sons who dare dream as big as Andy Warhol (Jake’s Father) will assuredly become Chucky’s victims, which lays the groundwork for another familiar slasher romp.
Chucky’s also upping his ante because he’s not trying to possess an Andy (Child’s Play) or Tyler (Child’s Play 3) — those around Jake have blackened his wholesome heart, and while I don’t think he’ll be a willing accomplice, the complication of teenage angst mixed with Chucky’s influence are a potent tease.
Thinking back to Bride Of Chucky and Seed Of Chucky, I reckon to note Chucky is the most we’ve ever seen of Mancini on the page, and that comes out in the sympathies we feel for Jake. He’s not a lost kid, but misunderstood and mistreated for a difference that becomes cafeteria gossip. Mancini’s telling an ode to the "weird" ones, where Jake's freer spirits juxtapose against characters who are all hiding secrets. Jake and Devon aren’t afraid of living as they are, and yet society views them differently — an early theme that I’m so excited for Mancini to explore with Chucky by their sides, or at least in Jake’s ear.
I’ll confess “Death By Misadventure” is better at what it implies in some parts than what’s shown, but that’s not entirely negative. I’m a mark here. The guy with the custom Bride Of Chucky shoes who’ll defend Child’s Play as the titan of horror franchises. My highest source of praise is always how Mancini keeps pushing Chucky’s journey forward, and it’s beyond evident that Chucky will continue that conscious evolution one episode at a time. All it takes is a gruesomely dissected frog, an exposed search history of cartoon pornography and the return of Brad Dourif’s iconic Chucky cackle to leave viewers on a lightning-bolt silhouette of the murders to come — new characters, new designs, same ol’ Chucky (for now).
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.