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“Dead End Paranormal Park” Review – An interesting idea aimed at the wrong audience

Dead End Paranormal Park is a show with some identity issues. The animated series is based on the popular webcomic Deadendia, which in turn was based on the less successful webtoon, Dead End.

I am unfamiliar with either the webtoon or webcomic – but I have watched enough shows to recognize when one is based on an existing property. While Dead End Paranormal Park can and does stand on its own, it struggles with who it is for.

There are a talking dog, funny demons, and theme park shenanigans all of which are great. Many darker and more mature ideas are left under-explored. Deadendia, the webcomic, was made for a mature audience; like suicide and AIDS.

So, to make the show primarily for a younger audience is an odd decision in my mind at least. While it is great (and necessary) for young kids to have shows with trans characters, autistic characters, and non-white and non-Christian characters…teens tend to be actively looking for characters like them. And there’s a clear market for an animated show with a premise like  Dead End Paranormal Park geared more to teens.

Summary

When Barney and Norma compete for a job at Phoenix Park, based around the Dolly Parton-esque Pauline Phoenix, they find out that the winner gets to be the host for the demon, Temeluchus. But during the ceremony, Temeluchus ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog giving him the ability to talk.

The three protagonists realize there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Joined by demon Courtney and several other park employees, Barney and Norma set off to figure out to uncover the secrets of the park, and Pauline herself.

The Good

I think there are a lot of things to like about Dead End Paranormal Park. I really want to emphasize that. It’s an interesting concept – a little busy at times – but who doesn’t like a horror comedy? 

Also, it has some pretty good representation.

The Representation

I don’t think I’ve seen a kids’ cartoon with this kind of explicit representation. Barney is a trans guy; his gender identity influences his character arc – but it isn’t the only aspect of his personality. He’s also gay – which manifests itself in a crush on his male co-worker. 

Barney’s identity is presented as normal and natural.

And Norma is autistic – though that isn’t as explicitly stated all the characteristics are there. She is blunt, doesn’t understand metaphors, and has a special interest in Paulin Phoenix. She also doesn’t like to be touched, gets easily overstimulated, and has a hard time understanding people.

It’s good to see that she’s still a well-developed, interesting, and compelling character. She’s not one-dimensional.

I will say, this representation is certainly one of Dead End Paranormal Park’s biggest draws since there’s such a lack of queer and neurodivergent representation in animation. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

We’ll get more shows like this if we support Dead End Paranormal Park. We won’t just have ones where a side character is LGBTQIA+ or where the protagonist gets into a same-sex relationship in the last episode.

The Humor

There is so much wordplay in this series. I love it. Sometimes it gets annoying especially when they seem to use the same kind of joke one time too many – but I really enjoyed it. And despite the show having a Y7- rating – they do get away with a few pretty dirty jokes. I always respect a show that tries to get things past the censors.

And I appreciate how the humor comes from the situations the characters find themselves in – though Wait Time: 22 Minutes caused so much second-hand embarrassment…But it also had one of the best “Getting Crap Past the Radar” moments I’ve ever seen.

The Bad

Part of what made Gravity Falls great was how the show exploited loopholes or in some cases, just disregarded the censors completely. (Here’s a whole video on it – containing some of Alex Hirsch’s responses.) But this is where Dead End Paranormal Park has a problem. The show has some genuinely scary moments.

The show holds back a lot of the time. The horror aspect would be a lot better if the show was geared to teens.

The Rating

Kids shouldn’t be the show’s target audience. The webcomic was geared towards adults and older teens. I know there’s still a heavy bias in the industry and most people think cartoons are for kids unless they’re a Family Guy-style knock-off…but it’s hard to adapt something created for a mature audience and age it down, without some parts coming off kind of condescending.

I like how Barney’s transness and Norma’s autism are tackled. They said it clearly in canon, so there’s no guessing. And that’s a great thing. More shows should be explicit about these topics – but sometimes it feels…forced and awkward. 

But what this Y-7 rating really affects is the horror. 

Horror for kids can be downright terrifying and sinister. Dead End Paranormal Park hasn’t quite gotten the right balance down yet. Sometimes the horror isn’t terrifying at all – or it feels like the real horror and its consequences get downplayed or even ignored.

I hate how these shows so often go with everyone, aside from the protagonists, just blithely discounting the horrors they went through and just brushing them off like nothing ever happened.

But that’s just me.

The Jewish Representation

I talk about Jewish representation a lot on this blog. I’m Jewish and very few people seem to be able to tell when Jewish representation is actually good. Most shows, including Dead End Paranormal Park, do it on a pretty superficial level. You’re allowed to have a character wear a sweater with a Star of David instead of a Christmas sweater (but they can’t hate Christmas). You’re also allowed to have them step on a glass during a wedding…but that’s usually the extent.

And that’s pretty much as far as the references to Barney’s religion goes. I’m not sure if the creator, Hamish Steele, is Jewish. I’ve seen no references to it on their social media – but there are a few things that tell me that, it was mostly non-Jews in this role.

While I get that people want to avoid stereotypes, but aside from their last name, ‘Friday Night Dinners’ and not celebrating Christmas, the Guttmans are not very Jewish coded.

I don’t know a single Jewish person who has a nickname like ‘Grammy Gran’ for a grandparent. That reads to me as a very WASP tendency. 

Barney’s brother is named Patrick. That is an extremely Catholic name, as Patrick is the name of a Saint. Of course, it is possible they just like the name. (But that would still be kind of weird.)

According to the Wiki, it seems that his dad is Jewish and his mother isn’t. (Saul is a VERY Jewish first name and Roxie can go one way or the other.) And that’s fine. I’d love a Jewish character who only has one Jewish parent but actively chooses to practice Judaism.

I still wish Jewish characters were actually allowed to be Jewish. However, props to the crew for finding an actual trans, Jewish man to voice a trans-Jewish character.

The Scoop

I liked this show. I’m definitely interested in what Season 2 will bring. But I hope the crew gets more freedom in the second season. This season felt very generic. It has mostly monster-of-the-week type of fare with the occasional scary moment.

Webcomics and animation are two different mediums. So, I think some of the tension got lost in translation. With the lower audience age range – a lot of the actual horror had to be toned down a lot. That combination is not a good one.

I wish I liked this show more. But I just can’t.

And that’s the scoop.

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Grade: B –

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Release Year: 2022

Length: 10 episodes, 26-31 minutes

Creator: Hamish Steele

Director: Liz Whitaker

Executive Producers: Hamish Steele, James Stevenson Bretton, Tom Stuart

Producer: Jen Coatsworth

Editor: Joseph Rowe

Voice Actors: Zach Barack, Kody Kavitha, Alex Brightman, Emily Osment, Clinton Leupp, Kenny Tran, Kathreen Khavari

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