TV: Monsterland (Season 1)

Hulu’s Monsterland is another welcome entry in the current resurgence of speculative anthology series, joining the likes of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Tales from the Loop, and The Twilight Zone. Based on the short fiction of Nathan Ballingrud, the series is more successful as a coherent project than any of those shows, and with its appealing literary sensibility and subtle connections, it’s the best anthology series since Black Mirror.

Monsterland is a collection of dark, contemporary horror stories set in the United States, ricocheting from one town to the next to explore the daily struggles of various characters. In the process, it examines the various and sundry ways American society lets its people down with systemic failings and compassionless indifference. There are a total of eight episodes, and they’re all solid: moody, thoughtful stories that aren’t so much frightening as they are dark and unsettling. Picking favorites, I would choose “New Orleans, LA,” featuring Nicole Beharie as a poor single mother who learns that her stable relationship with an esteemed doctor (Hamish Linklater) is built on unnerving lies; “Iron River, MI,” in which the disappearance of a young girl leads to her best friend (Kelly Marie Tran) taking over her life; and “Eugene, OR,” which stars Ozark’s Charlie Tahan as an impoverished young man whose bleak home life is given chilling new meaning when he joins a creepy online community, which helps him to track down the elusive supernatural source of his all his misfortune. Monsterland‘s speculative content is subtly crafted, just on the edge of perception, which gives it more symbolic power in the context of its social critique. In this sense it reminded me a little of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot, but with considerably more touch, avoiding that show’s tendency toward strident messaging. The production is classy and full of great performances, from the above as well as Adria Arjona, Bill Camp, Roberta Colindrez, Mike Colter, Adepero Oduye, Ben Rappaport, Taylor Schilling, Trieu Tran, Jonathan Tucker, and the recurring Kaitlyn Dever (whose character creates narrative continuity by appearing in multiple episodes). An enjoyably atmospheric series of contemporary horror tales, well worth watching.

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