To understand a show like “Channel Zero”, you need to understand its roots, especially in The Golden Age Of TelevisionTM where most everything tends to homage or borrow from something else; history, previous shows of a different era, another medium, or a mix and match of all of the above. Each season of “Channel Zero” is themed around a single strand of ‘Creepypasta’, memetic paranormal microfiction, the digital successor to urban legends, with their own fandoms and forums on the likes of Reddit and beyond.
For its first season, “Channel Zero” tunes us in to ‘Candle Cove’, a fictional children’s program that only a select group of children remember and can see. Mike Painter (Paul Schneider), a psychologist, visits his childhood hometown to explore the traumatic events of thirty years previous when a child serial killer – who was never caught – devastated his and other families’ lives. Upon his return to the sleepy small town, an eerie children’s television show that may have been previously linked to the events resumes rebroadcasting and history begins to repeat itself.
With the success of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story” it’s logical that such a rich niche horror concept as Creepypasta would make the leap to the insatiable appetites of television Networks bereft of ideas. The show’s creator, Nick Antosca, delivers by expanding significantly on the origins of ‘Candle Cove’ and intertwining it expertly with a macabre whodunit. Had he not done this, no doubt the season would have run out of steam over its 6 episodes. Thankfully they don’t feel overly drawn out and although there isn’t a stand-out episode, the pacing is of sufficient tempo with enough thrills and chills along the way to keep you interested as it feasts on your childhood fears.
Paul Schneider (the first two seasons of “Parks and Recreation”) is superb as the troubled lead trying to make sense of historical events whilst struggling (and mostly failing) to keep himself sane and convince the locals that he grew up with that something is terribly wrong. Fiona Wilson is equally brilliant as Mike’s haunted mother that has to forgive the past in order to face the future and rebuild her life thirty years on with little contact from her son.
The direction and cinematography are top-notch, capturing the Midwest beautifully and providing a hazy innocence to the dread that transpires although the fantasy elements prior to the revealing finale could be a bit more daring at times. Each episode weaves a further strand to the complicated story, switching between present day and 1988, gradually adding more detail to the backstory as you’d expect with this type of show.
My only criticism is that the supporting cast isn’t explored further in the present day, possibly due to the fact that so much had to be crammed into 6 episodes of 40-something minutes. To provide much more detail would devalue the experience. I very rarely find TV or films scary or harrowing for that matter since my cousin thought it would be hilarious to show me an uncut version of “Evil Dead” as a ten-year-old, but there are several scenes where I genuinely had to cover my face although this is possibly due to my phobia of teeth. Suffice to say if you didn’t like the “Is it safe?” scene from “Marathon Man” there are parts where you may want to look away and cover your ears!
Watch this if you like: “American Horror Story”, “Slasher”, “V/H/S”