Eerie, Indiana is an absurdist fantasy series about a young boy called Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) who moves with his family from New Jersey to the town of Eerie, Indiana (hey, that’s the name of the show!) and discovers that Eerie is – and I quote from the opening titles – the “centre of weirdness for the entire planet”. With his new friend Simon (Justin Shenkarow) he’ll often find himself in many scary situations, from evil body-preserving tupperware to evil scheming poodles. It’s most certainly not a show to take seriously. It was broadcast on NBC in the early nineties but cancelled after only 19 episodes. However, it was shown on Fox Kids in 1997, and this is how I came into contact with it for the first time. It spawned a new, recast series of episodes but as far I know I never watched them.
I was initially worried about revisiting Eerie, Indiana since I do remember it as one of my favourite childhood shows, along with Bernard’s Watch, Reboot, and Big Bad Beetleborgs, all of which I’d considered doing for this article. If I watched it and it was terrible I’d be annoyed with myself for tarnishing that, but I’m glad that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Eerie again. Its production is undoubtedly dated, but it only seems to add to the absurdity of the situations, adding a level of humour to the show that reinforces it rather than detracts from its initial intentions. Mostly, the writing remains impressive and self-aware, the crazy plot directions spurned on by good dialogue and some genuine characterisation for most of the leading players. This helps you to forgive the occasional clichés or laughable assertions – at one point, Marshall pinpoints the reason for Eerie’s weirdness to the fact that on the map its geography was identical to the Bermuda Triangle. “That proves everything!” says Simon. I’d forgotten just how much of my childhood television invoked the Bermuda Triangle as a deus ex machina for anything unexplainable. Certainly Power Rangers did it too, and I vaguely recall it from something like Count Duckula as well. But I digress.
The one thing I realise, despite recalling my enjoyment of the show, is that I couldn’t really remember much about it at all. I watched the episode “The Retainer”, which involves another friend of Marshall’s getting some rather clunky braces that pick up the voices of the neighbourhood dogs, who appear to be trying to take over Eerie. The only part of the episode I remember is one small bit where they hear a group of dogs singing “Dem Bones”. So, in essence, I’m watching much of these episodes new again. And even though it’s undoubtedly aimed at children, who will be genuinely swept up in the adventure of it all, I’m certain that adult viewers can enjoy it as much as I did. It’s peppered with little eccentricities that just amuse greatly: the van for the dog pound is labelled Canine Arrest Team (CAT); there’s a sign in the dog pound saying “NO BARKING”; amongst a rabble of dogs shouting about everything they’re rebelling against, one of them shouts “down with kibble!” which may be my favourite line in anything ever now. Of course one of the evil dogs is a French poodle, and another is revealed to be called Fluffy. Even funnier is when Marshall breaks the fourth wall to mouth it incredulously at the audience.
In “America’s Scariest Home Videos”, the boys are forced to stay in at Halloween to look after Simon’s little brother Harley, who ends up trapped in an old mummy movie, while the mummy ends up in real life terrorising the boys. We see occasional bits of Harley in the film, with its heroine still screaming like crazy, much to the young boy’s annoyance. This is where the show’s self-awareness upped an ante for me (until the next episode, but more on that in a moment). Of course you expect them to trap the dumb, staggering mummy in some way and get him to switch back with Harley. In fact, the “mummy” is really the actor Boris Von Arloff underneath all the makeup and bandages, and at next glance at the televison we see Harley breaking through the film set of the mummy movie and terrorising all the crew. It’s a nice twist that hints at the show’s fascination with more meta aspects, rather than just being another silly monster for the heroes to defeat. The self-awareness of how ridiculous some of these situations are also bleeds through – Marshall calls the problem the “Video Feedback Timewarp Zapping Thing”, and for a moment I was checking the credits for Joss Whedon’s involvement.
The final episode of the show* is “Reality Takes a Holiday”, where Marshall discovers a film script that details his morning. Suddenly, his home becomes a film set, his family are all actors, and he is Omri, an actor playing “Marshall” on a television show (Supernatural fans will recognise this as pretty much the plot of “The French Mistake”; this Eerie episode was out in 1992). Out-of-character moments are always fun: Marshall’s dad is suddenly a hyper-pretentious twit who once directed John Malkovich in something-or-other; Simon is a sexist pig; and most amusingly, Marshall’s sister Syndi, one of the typical nineties teenage girly girls, is a feminist who complains about her dumb character and the lack of female empowerment in the show. At this point I’m thinking Whedon definitely had a hand in this. The ending of this episode is also a fascinating inversion of expectations: when other shows shake up their reality, the return to normalcy is absolute; here, Eerie returns to normal but Marshall finds a script that is still dictating his life. He then seems to accept this, and as such, the possibility that his world may be a scripted television programme. Which it is. But he’s not meant to know that, is he? My brain hurts.
Eerie was far more enjoyable to watch now that I’d actually expected beforehand, and since the whole series seems to be easily accessible online, I may wind up watching the entire thing again.
* It was the final episode of the initial run. Another episode was broadcast much later, but I think it was one that was filmed before it.