But I digress …
The inclusion of fantasy-themed properties does allow us to consider properties like the TV classics of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and even Night Gallery as being something akin to the more traditional takes such as Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, and The Expanse. I suspect that’s why Syfy was pleased to add this season’s Channel Zero: Candle Cove to its line-up … and I, for one, am pretty jazzed that they did.
Seriously, are you watching this?
Candle Cove tells the story of budding psychologist Mike Painter (played by Paul Schneider) and his trip back home to the town of his youth where an unspeakable tragedy occurred decades ago: the death of children and his supposed involvement in all of it forced him to abandon his hometown, but a recent reconciliation with his estranged mother (Fiona Shaw) brings him back, only to soon realize the evil that was is also nostalgic for a reunion. Before you know it, he’s wrapped up in a new series of killings which appear to involve a creepily suggestive children’s program called (you guessed it) “Candle Cove.”
Now – as I suggested in the above – Channel Zero isn’t Science Fiction, except for the fact that it might involve parallel dimensions or some other kind of fringe elements (I won’t spoil it for you) genre fans are generally happy to include. It’s most definitely Fantasy with a healthy helping of horror thrown in for good storytelling measures. What promises to be an ongoing anthology series boasts multiple-episode story arcs, and it’s safest to describe this as a kinda/sorta Twilight Zone wherein the tales stretch out to more miniseries proportions. And Candle Cove – as the inaugural tale – is pretty exciting: it combines elements from The Twilight Zone with a modern-day spin by way of a side trip into Twin Peaks territory. As TV mindbenders go, it’s compelling.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Cove is the setting: this is meant to be small-town America … and I do mean “small town.” It’s the kind of place where houses have big yards with open expanses of grass. Gone is the suburban influence wherein families are pressed up against one another for efficiency: these folks have room to run and ample space to stretch their legs. There are forests and water towers and empty, abandoned factories; all the vestiges that healthily (or not) depict those little burgs some of us once called home. I think it’s safe to say that it’s the kind of place wherein one could commit a murder (or a series of them) and no one would know where the bodies were buried for quite some time; and Cove’s storytellers have made great use out of its unique, disappearing setting. (I say this as one who did grow up in such a time and such a place myself.)
Schneider is an odd choice for a lead, and (again) that might be why this tale works as well as it does. Most folks will recognize the actor for his stint as Mark Brendanawicz aboard NBC’s Parks and Recreation, a program where he never quite ‘seemed’ comfortable. His soft-spoken city employee just seemed too ‘average’ for the cast of borderline weirdos (maybe that was the intent), and he ended up disappearing from after only two seasons (it went on for seven). Here, Schneider’s character is wrapped in a cloak of duplicitousness, and viewers are never quite sure whether he’s told them everything he knows about the past OR the present. All the more reason to stay glued to the events.
Well, children who grew up in the 1970’s (guilty, as charged) might recognize the influence of the programs of Sid and Marty Krofft. As shows go, these were odd ducks, ones relying on characters in sometimes bizarre costumes or ‘puppety’ creations not unlike those found on Sesame Street. Having stumbled across a few sequences recently (thanks to YouTube and the greater World Wide Web these things continue to have a second life), I can say that it’s surprising to me as an adult what somehow captivated my young mind, so Channel Zero’s pirate clan built around the fictional ‘Candle Cove’ fits in perfectly as a throwback to a culture when big things were achieved on a simple budget. Maybe it’s best to think of this as The Muppets if they were done by Charles Manson instead of Jim Henson, and I think you’ll get the picture.
And the biggest twist?
This couldn’t be done the way technology is today, but the pirate-themed Candle Cove appears on what would’ve been a UHF channel: Weird Al Yankovic cleverly and warmly satirized them in UHF (1989), a series of kinda/sorta unofficial channels on the ol’ TV dial. (The closest thing today would possibly to community access networks, the kinds of places that allow local programming performed on the cheap.) In the program’s biggest twist of irony, Candle Cove – a show about pirates – was purported to be a legitimate pirate broadcast: no one knows where it originated, so no one knows where it went much less what it was all about.
Well, apparently Candle Cove is encouraging the town’s youngest to commit murder, a kind of technology-themed “Children of the Damned.”
If you’re not watching it, then you’re truly missing out something wonderful. Its final hour of a six-episode run is slated for November 15th on Syfy, so I encourage those of you who might be interested in checking out the first five on the web before its big finish. It’s definitely been a wild ride.