How Chucky Opens a New Chapter for the Cult Series While Staying True to Its (Bloody) Roots

How Chucky Opens a New Chapter for the Cult Series While Staying True to Its (Bloody) Roots
Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur) brings his new frenemy to school. (Photo: Steve Wilkie/SYFY)

Chucky’s back! The plastic-faced, orange-haired terror from the Child’s Play movies has his own TV show coming to Syfy and USA tonight, and good news for fans of the cult-beloved horror franchise: Chucky stays very true to the spirit of the movies, putting the focus on the young cast at its core while also making room for some familiar folks from Chucky’s past. Even better, its shift to an episodic TV format gives creator Don Mancini room to bring in new elements, including a detailed backstory for Charles Lee Ray — as Chucky was known before he used black magic to transfer his dying spirit onto a doll.

The TV series begins as Jake (Zackary Arthur), a lonely teen who’s just sort of figuring out he’s gay, buys a Good Guy doll at a yard sale, first intending to use it in a sculpture made out of doll parts, then deciding he wants to sell it on eBay, then realising Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) is no ordinary toy. Bloodshed, mayhem, and tragedy soon begin to follow Jake around, which is the last thing he wants as he dodges bullying from his cousin Junior (Teo Briones) and Junior’s girlfriend Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind), all while hiding a secret crush on his classmate, Devin (Bjorgvin Arnarson), who happens to host a true-crime podcast. Gizmodo got a chance to see the first four episodes, and while we won’t spoil any Chucky plot points here, we did get a chance to speak to Mancini and his young cast about some of the show’s larger themes.

Chucky doesn't like Lexy either. (Photo: Photo by: Steve Wilkie/SYFY) Chucky doesn’t like Lexy either. (Photo: Photo by: Steve Wilkie/SYFY)

In a roundtable interview ahead of Chucky’s premiere, Mancini explained to Gizmodo and other press why he preferred getting eight episodes of TV to tell the latest chapter in Chucky’s story, rather than keeping things confined to a single movie. “Because you have the greater storytelling real estate, we have more time to get you involved with these characters, who initially seem on the face of it to be one thing, but then you find out a little more about them and we start to peel the onion away,” Mancini said. “For example, Lexy was initially this horrible bully. By the end of the second episode, I think you’re rooting for Chucky and Jake to get her. But then just as we manoeuvre Chucky into position to do that in episode three, we start finding out a little more about why Lexy acts the way she does, because of the situation going on in her own family. So then you’re kind of going, ‘Oh, wait a minute, she’s not so bad, actually, she’s actually acting out of some kind of pain.’ And I think that having more time and space increases the tension because you get to know them much more as human beings than you can in a 90-minute movie.”

Lexy’s bullying of Jake is especially cruel in the early episodes, something that Lind addressed (“I’m just so horrible to him”) — but she also pointed out that Lexy is far from the worst bully on the show. “What Don’s been saying, which I love, is that Chucky is the perfect form of a bully. He comes to you, asking to be your ‘friend till the end,’ and then he manipulates you and he gets you to do exactly what he wants.”

You know Chucky's not gonna go down like that. (Photo: Steve Wilkie/Syfy) You know Chucky’s not gonna go down like that. (Photo: Steve Wilkie/Syfy)

Chucky may be a huge arsehole in some regards, in addition to that whole “kill-crazy maniac” thing, but he’s a surprisingly progressive character in other ways. “I think it’s sort of interesting to do something with — for lack of a better term — a slight social mission or social statement, but to come at that through the lens of a horror character as well-known as Chucky, particularly in that he has such a distinct dark sense of humour,” Mancini said.

Mancini continued, “One of my favourite dialogue exchanges in the show is when Chucky is reading Jake’s diary. And he says to Jake, ‘You should just call it Devin, Devin, Devin,’ and Jake is embarrassed. So Chucky says, ‘You know, I have a queer kid,’ and Jake is like, what? And you’re cool with it? And Chucky says, ‘Well, I’m not a monster, Jake.’ I like to think that over the years and the films that we’ve [brought dimension to] Chucky in a somewhat unusual way, I mean, we’ve seen his home life, his family life, his difficult marriage, and he had a gender-fluid child and he struggled with that in Seed of Chucky, but at the end came to accept it. So, you know, he’s sort of in a good position to become Jake’s seeming ally in that way because he’s not a bigot. He’s not homophobic. He’s not racist. He’s just a psychopath who doesn’t discriminate. He’ll kill anybody!”

While Chucky’s early episodes spend most of their time introducing the show’s younger characters, there are hints that the action will start to tie back into the events of the movies. “We definitely do pick up the story threads that I left on multiple cliffhangers in Cult of Chucky, and I did that very deliberately with the hope of setting up a television series,” Mancini teased, while also reminding that the show’s later episodes will feature the return of multiple fan-favourite Child’s Play characters. “We spend a substantial amount of time with [Fiona Dourif’s] Nica, [Jennifer Tilly’s] Tiffany, [Alex Vincent’s] Andy, and [Christine Elise’s] Kyle.”

Jake, Chucky, Junior, and Lexy have an intense locker-side meeting. (Photo: Steve Wilkie/Syfy) Jake, Chucky, Junior, and Lexy have an intense locker-side meeting. (Photo: Steve Wilkie/Syfy)

While Arthur, Briones, Lind, and Arnarson, who range in age from 14 to 16, are new to the world of Chucky, they learned fast that not only is he a force to be reckoned with — here’s Arnardson, shuddering at an on-set memory, “I think it was creepier when they weren’t using [the doll prop]… [I’d see] Chucky and he’s just like looking at me” — but also that the Child’s Play movies have such a devoted fan base. “When I was growing up, I was never really allowed to watch rated R-horror movies,” Arthur said. “[But] when I found out when I was auditioning for the role, I actually binged the Child’s Play series in like two days. They were funnier than I expected them to be.”

Briones, who said he also watched the entire series and loved it, didn’t realise at first the popularity of the thing he’s now a fully-fledged part of. “I don’t think I really realised the weight of the legacy until about halfway through filming,” he said. “And then I realised how humongous this franchise is and how passionate the fans are. It definitely made me a little bit more nervous and, you know, wondering, ‘Oh God, am I doing this right?’ But then it also made me super excited, because now this is in TV format instead of movies, we get to say a lot more with our characters and the story. It gave me a really good sense of accomplishment when we finished the show — and also when we got to see a little sneak peek of the show, I felt like we were doing the fans proud. I hope everyone likes it.”

Chucky premieres tonight, October 12, on USA and Syfy.