Hit or Sh**: Syfy’s CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
With CHANNEL ZERO, Syfy attempts to have a piece of the anthology pie, and mostly succeeds despite itself. Not to cast judgement on the network for its choices, but for every WAREHOUSE 13 (RIP) or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, there are as equally many VAN HELSINGs or AFTERMATHs. The network has a hit-or-miss track record. Some of that is due to smart licensing deals (much of Syfy’s Originals catalogue is produced or co-produced by Canadian networks) and a willingness to explore some more “out there” genre experiments. From the outside, CHANNEL ZERO seems to be one such experiment, an anthology series based around adapting one of the internet’s greatest treasures, the creepypasta. What it actually could become remains to be seen.
This first of the two pre-planned seasons of CHANNEL ZERO (notably executive produced by the polarizing Max Landis) is a loose adaptation of “Candle Cove,” a creepypasta written by Kris Straub. One of the more well-known stories due to its unique web forum format, CANDLE COVE is about a mysterious and violent children’s television show that never seemed to exist, except in the minds of the children who watched it. CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE is about Mike Painter (Paul Schneider), a child psychologist and one of the children who watched the show when it originally aired. He returns to his hometown of Iron Hill to investigate the show’s reappearance, and of course, all is not as it seems.
Your least favorite thing about the early seasons of PARKS AND RECREATION has found a new home!
Mike himself has some secrets: his past relationship with his now dead (?) twin brother, his past relationship with his enigmatic mother (Fiona Shaw), his past relationship with his ex-wife, and his past in general. Snippets of the past sneak into the present narrative of the show in fractured vignettes that capture the intrusive nature of memories, while driving up the ominous tension of Mike’s past. His old friends and enemies have equally opaque pasts and motivations. The whole town seems obscured in some kind of dream logic, as if the long shadow of the murders that happened in the town and the specter of how Candle Cove may have been involved have tainted everything. Or maybe it’s just the natural feeling of confusion and conflict that comes at the end of a relationship, the feeling that comes when someone returns home to find it practically unchanged, the feeling that comes when someone decides to piece together a traumatic past. Conjuring these feelings is something that, based off the pilot, CHANNEL ZERO seems intimately skilled at.
This little girl gets kidnapped by a pirate puppet, something the protagonist seems totally cool with.
These ideas are further bolstered by the unique and isolating imagery the show uses: a child staring at a blank television screen, a life-sized puppet, a creature made of teeth. CHANNEL ZERO knows how to ratchet up the weird and creepy by seemingly drawing on the long memory and dark subconscious of the internet itself. That is what gives me hope for the show.
What begins to take that hope away are the negatives. The wooden acting (even occasionally from the star of the show) can be particularly distracting. The feeling that there’s not even enough story in this creepypasta to support the six episodes of the show is also a huge concern. But most importantly, the final, most damning negative: the show and its creators might not even know what actually makes the story of Candle Cove compelling. On paper, CANDLE COVE’s story and imagery is unique and engaging, but what made the short story popular were the feelings it conjured through its structure: the fragility of memory, the irresistibility of nostalgia, and the context that adulthood can bring to childhood experiences. I’m not sure that CHANNEL ZERO fully understands that draw, but I hope that they figure it out.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE airs on Tuesdays on Syfy