While the spooky season may be over, that never stopped elder millennials like me from voraciously reading Goosebumps year round. The young adult horror series written by R.L. Stine spanned an impressive 62 books in the 90s. Since then many spin-offs have been written in addition to video games, a 1995 television series, and multiple films starring Jack Black. Now, Disney+ and Hulu have commissioned a new series, available now, that does something elevated, new, and ultimately engrossing – something a lot of reboots of well-known IP fail to do.
While the books many of us grew up with were written largely as an anthology series with contained narratives and new characters, the brilliant move that makes this series so compelling is the decision to tell an ongoing story. Without spoiling anything, the series’ first 5 episodes deftly introduce us to our lead teens, each using a classic Goosebumps tale to weave them into the central mystery. Viewers are treated to Say Cheese and Die, The Haunted Mask, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Go Eat Worms, and Reader Beware. This all culminates in Night of the Living Dummy – one of the most classic and well-known Goosebumps books which itself spawned a spin-off literary series. From there more well-known stories are woven into the narrative leading to the episode 10 finale, Welcome to Horrorland (my personal favorite book) which will become available on November 17.
Again, without giving too much away, generational trauma is smartly and subtly at the center of this creepy mystery. Something the best releases from Disney have done over the last few years – Encanto and Elemental come immediately to mind – is to explore the dynamics between children and their parents and the way parents’ decisions and experiences shape and sometimes even traumatize their children. The five teens banned together in Goosebumps are no exception. Isaiah (Zack Morris), Margot (Isa Briones), James (Miles McKenna), Isabella (Ana Yi Puig), and Lucas (Will Price) all embody different aspects of students within the high school experience. We have a popular jock, the daughter of the principal with no school spirit, a queer student, an invisible nerd, and a reckless possible burnout. However, despite my ability to boil them down to a single descriptor, the writing and the acting draw each student sharper and far more dimensional than what may at first appear to be a Breakfast Club riff.
Along with the decision to explore an ongoing mystery, aging up our heroes from middle to high school goes a long way to increase the suspense and riveting binge-ability of the series. If you’re a well-seasoned horror fanatic, Goosebumps isn’t going to scare you. In fact, producer Hilary Winston remarked on the specific choices they made to design scares to give young viewers a jolt without disturbing them in a way that might keep them up at night. That tenor feels right for a show like Goosebumps. Taking it into a truly gory or profoundly frightening place would feel gratuitous and disingenuous. That isn’t to say, however, that the show is toothless. It’s full of genuinely creepy moments, suspense, thrills, and scares. As an adult with a child of my own, I was and am gripped by the series and waiting impatiently for the final episodes to drop.
Goosebumps is cast within an inch of its life. Our five core teens have wonderful, natural chemistry together and bring real lived-in authenticity to their high school personas. It’s hard to write for teens in a way that feels true to life and while the series has a line here or there that feels a little manufactured, by and large, the casting of and writing for these five actors in conjunction with their performances is what really elevates Goosebumps to a must-see status. Rounding out the cast is Justin Long as Mr. Bratt, whose casting again is really inspiring. Long’s comedic timing and especially his physicality, coupled with his ability to shift seamlessly into menace, really makes the show sing. Long is joined most notably by Rachel Harris and Rob Huebel who, in addition to the other parents, fill out the cast with everything the show needs to succeed.
I didn’t know what to expect when I jumped into this series but I was beyond pleasantly surprised to be taken on the adventure I was. Goosebumps is a well-executed success, perfect for families to watch together or kids to even watch on their own. The first seven episodes are streaming on Disney+ and Hulu now. Episode 8 drops Friday, November 3, with the final two episodes following on November 10 and 17, respectively. I’ll be eagerly awaiting their arrival.