Things That Made Me: Eerie, Indiana

This entry is part [part not set] of 2 in the series ... That Made Me

Okay, I’m going to start by undercutting my title: Eerie Indiana didn’t actually make me who I am. But it was still super important. It’s a little weird, but then again, so is the show.

Eerie, Indiana is a scifi/fantasy/horror kids show from 1991. It ran for one season (19 episodes). Originally on NBC, it was then syndicated on the Disney Channel from 1993-1996, before jumping networks again to Fox for a year in 1997.

I discovered this as a ten-year old so it hit me just when I was starting to grow my own pop-culture sensibility, but still had nearly all my media  selected by my parents. Not that their choices were bad, just that nothing was self-selected. Nothing was mine or me. So when Eerie, Indiana came up it acted as a bit of a conduit. The show itself isn’t all that amazing, but it’s made up of countless priceless pieces.

You see, Eerie, Indiana was Joe Dante’s follow-up project after Gremlins 2. Dante’s directorships were Gremlins, Explorers (which I love), Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, Gremlins 2, and then this. That weird, not-quite-for -kids feel from Gremlins is kneaded and softened just enough to become a show for kids.

In addition to that, many of the plots are urban legends, Twilight Zone rehashes, or “strongly reminiscent of” Goosebumps books. And then there’s the cast. Main character Marshall Teller is played by Omri Katz, who will be recognized by many as the lead in Hocus Pocus. The rest of the cast is similarly filled with character actors and “oh, that guy”s. Jason Marsden, whose voice you’ll recognize if not his face, John Astin (Addams Family), Harry Goaz (Twin Peaks), Henry Gibson (way too much to list), Tony Jay, Tobey Maguire, Matt Frewer, Vincent Schiavelli, Danielle Harris, Rene Auberjonois, Claude Akins, Tom Everett, Ray Walston, Stephen Root. Seriously, just scroll through the IMDB cast page and you’ll find someone you had forgotten about but recognize. And those are all from a single season! That’s approaching Pete & Pete guest celebrity density. Stylistically there are creepy suburbs, twins talking in unison, and a bunch of low-key norm-core anxiety; the first episode could take place in the same world as Edward Scissorhands. Episode 10, “The Lost Hour”, is essentially Stephen King’s The Langoliers with daylight savings time instead of an airplane.

Does the show itself hold up? The episodes aren’t bad, but they aren’t fantastic. I have a feeling that without the aid of nostalgia the pace would be a bit slow, the production a bit too cheap. However, what this show offered to me in my childhood. What it gave me was a vocabulary for movies and television that I didn’t have. Up until now, I knew that horror was scary and comedy was funny. But Eerie, Indiana changed that for me. Suddenly horror could make me laugh, and comedy could make me feel sad. Suddenly endings weren’t always so happy, and there might not be a final act twist to fix everything. Sometimes death is a part of the story.

In episode 5, America’s Scariest Home Video, an actor is trapped reshooting a monster movie in a time loop for all eternity. The happy ending is more of happier ending, in that he gets to jump from horror to a nicer film. but he’s still trapped. It’s just a nicer trap.

In episode 7, Heart on a Chain, well, just read the episode summary:

Marshall and a classmate, Devon (Cory Danziger) fall for the new girl, Melissa (Danielle Harris) who needs a heart transplant. When Devon dies in a gruesome accident, Melissa receives Devon’s heart — and her personality changes almost overnight. Is Melissa acting out because she feels guilty over Devon’s death or does Devon’s spirit live on in his transplanted heart, which is now in Melissa’s body?

Yeah, I tuned into the Disney Channel to watch an episode where Marshall’s classmate dies, and then followed that up with a heart transplant for another kid. That is kind of astounding. This wasn’t a very special episode where Marshall and the Tellers have to deal with a far removed family member’s death. This was a classmate. To make it even stranger, that death wasn’t even the point of the episode. I mean, it allows the plot to move forward, but it’s not about the emotional fallout of Devon’s death, it’s about Marshall investigating just another strange occurrence, part of which just happens to be the death of his peer.

Episode 14, Mr. Chaney, is a suburban/rural sacrifice story. Episode 19 features rebellion against an abusive father. The show basically alternated between referential horror tropes and plots, and sinister concepts. There’s always something a bit horrific going on, wrapped up in a palatable and affable weirdness. If there’s one take-away from this show, it’s that it was magnificent at sublimating darkness into children’s entertainment. Which is Joe Dante all over.

What Marshall Teller’s time in this town showed me was that genres were less concrete than I thought, and that twists could come from style as much as plot. This all might sound a bit heady, but these were things I was absorbing in the back of my head. I looked forward to each episode, but I also had a tinge of unease when they started. I’d never actually looked forward to something that I wanted with anything other than anticipation, and I had to come to terms with both wanting something, and wanting to look away. That’s not to say that all of this was conscious. I was ten. These things were all happening behind the curtain of my awareness. But they were happening. While I wasn’t having these ideas, I was experiencing these feelings, and coming to terms with them was happening on a syndicated schedule.

If I’m being a little hokey, I might say I grew up in Eerie, Indiana. I didn’t. It was one season long, and once it fell off of Disney’s rotation I lost track of it for a long time. I never forgot it though, and I’d randomly remember certain pieces of it from time to time. It’s probably more accurate to say I grew up in Wellsville1, but I spent my summers in Eerie, Indiana.

Eerie, Indiana is available on Netflix, or to purchase on Amazon.

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1 But that’s a whole other story.

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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