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Dead End: Paranormal Park

Entry updated 27 June 2022. Tagged: TV.

US animated online tv series (2022). Blink Industries, Netflix Animation. Created by Hamish Steele. Based on the short Dead End, broadcast as part of the Cartoon Hangover anthology series Too Cool! Cartoons (2013-2014) (see What a Cartoon!). Directed by Liz Whitaker. Writers include Jen Bardekoff, Brydie Lee-Kennedy, Nicole Paglia and Hamish Steele. Voice cast includes Zach Barack, Alex Brightman, Kody Kavitha, Kathreen Khavari, Clinton Leupp, Emily Osment and Kenny Tran. Ten 23- to 28-minute episodes. Colour.

Phoenix Parks ("where the fun just never stops ... except November through to March") is a theme park in honour of actress Pauline Phoenix (Leupp); her shows include Dr Love, where the doctor solves people's romantic problems with heart transplants. Park employees who play the glamorous Pauline tend to go missing for several years ... the park also has an elevator to Hell (see Eschatology).

Teenagers Barney Guttman (Barack) and Norma Khan (Kavitha) apply for a vacancy in Dead End, the park's haunted house. Met by the demon (see Gods and Demons) Courtney (Osment), she reveals that they are actually vying to host the mind of Temeluchus (Brightman), member of the demon royal family. Barney is chosen: fortunately his pet pug, Pugsley (Brightman), leaps to his defence – the demon mistakenly entering the dog's brain. Most of Temeluchus's mind ends up imprisoned in a photograph, but a suppressed remnant stays in Pugsley – who can now speak and use Magic. Courtney is an exile from the Demon World and thinks Pugsley might be able to return her there, so she makes Barney and Norma security guards. Norma returns home, but Barney and the now fez-adorned Pugsley stay at Dead End.

Barney is gay and trans (see Transgender SF) and sees moving into the Park as an opportunity to live his live without apology. His parents say they accept him (Barney: "That's what parents are supposed to do, that's the bare minimum."), yet refuse to stand up for him when his grandmother criticizes him. Norma – a Pauline Phoenix fangirl – is autistic and ridden with anxiety, so has difficulty socializing; but she befriends Barney and, slowly, becomes close to the park employee Badyah Hassan (Khavari). Barney falls for another colleague, Logan Nguyenbut (Tran), but cannot work up the courage to ask him out. (Norma: "I'm the socially awkward one, stop stealing my thing.")

The early episodes establish the world and its characters: the park's discarded mascot suits come to life and stagger round like Zombies chanting "Meat!", causing consternation until it is realized that they just want to "meet" visitors. Another episode has the cast being possessed – an Identity Transfer, but not a swap with the possessor's body becoming vacant as the victim is pushed into The Inbetween, a limbo version of the park. This proves relevant when Norma becomes a Paranormal Detective, with Badyah as her sidekick, to investigate the missing Pauline doubles. They discover Pauline is a ghost (see Supernatural Creatures) who for 30 years has possessed her park impersonators (essentially, Rejuvenation through body hopping). Norma, Barney and Pugsley find themselves sucked into a defective television to participate in several of Pauline's shows, including haunted house, medieval, western, Prehistoric SF (with cavemen and a suitably unconvincing Dinosaur) and sf genres: they move between these by breaking through a fourth wall of television static; the happy Norma has to be persuaded to leave. The park is taken over by a revived Temeluchus and his sister – this a musical episode – until they are defeated by the intervention of Courtney – who has developed a reluctant fondness for Norma, Barney and Pugsley – and by Temeluchus having learnt empathy by co-existing with Pugsley. All ends happily: Barney's mother acknowledges that her wish to keep the peace with her mother meant she ignored Barney's feelings, and that will change (the importance of support is a major theme in the show). Finally, we see a strange but haloed creature, who comments: "These humans might be the ones we've been looking for: maybe it's time those upstairs paid them a visit."

Dead End: Paranormal Park has interesting and imaginative characters, themes, artwork and invention; with strong emotional threads for Barney and Norma. It is also funny (see Humour). The first season was very good, with a strong latter half save for the finale, which was perhaps a little too formulaic; a criticism of the show might be that the plots can occasionally be routine. It is to be hoped that a second series will be commissioned. [SP]

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