The R.L. Stine series Goosebumps grabbed a hold of teens in the 1990s. For most, it was their entryway into horror. For others, the stories were quick but fun adventure stories. With a popular series of adaptations and a pair of fun movies in its catalog, it’s no wonder that Goosebumps makes its way back into pop culture with a new Disney+ TV series. The Sony-produced show comes just in time for Halloween and lays on the nostalgia. However, in doing so, it lays a strong foundation for a connecting narrative based on the iconic novels.
As Halloween approaches, a group of teens try to throw a party at an abandoned house. Isiah (Zach Morris) is the star QB and lives next door to Margot (Isa Briones). After Margo helps Isiah cheat on a test, he invites her to the party as payback. However, throughout the night, three of their other friends – James (Miles McKenna), Isabella (Ana Yi Puig), and Lucas (Will Price) – begin seeing odd occurrences. When the owner of the house – and their new English teacher – Mr. Bratt (Justin Long) breaks up the party, the strange happenings follow them home. The kids soon unearth a mystery in the house and a teen who died decades earlier.
This iteration of Goosebumps comes from Rob Letterman (2015’s Goosebumps) and Nicholas Stoller (2011’s The Muppets), who each have plenty of experience building fun ensembles. In this case, they fill out the cast with TV veterans Rachael Harris, Leonard Roberts, and Rob Huebel. They help fill out an adult storyline filled with deception, intrigue, and more adult themes. It helps Goosebumps elevate beyond a teen action comedy and puts it in the same space as a series like Stranger Things or Supernatural.
Justin Long gets a showcase role with some very funny bits and good teacher vibes. His commitment to his character puts him in some awkward situations, but he makes every moment enjoyable because he rolls with the silly plot. The group of teens stands out for their chemistry. The Breakfast Club vibes work as the teens slowly come together, and we get enough time with each character to establish their motivations. The most attention is paid to Morris and Briones, who shine when paired.
The visual effects on the show are iffy at times, and the color palette feels a bit flat. The overarching “monster” gets moments that are truly scary when in silhouette, but the visual effects of fire and coal are less exciting. Other monsters, like worms and odd creatures, prove hit and miss. The most interesting comes from a gooey substance, which provides more unique jumpscares over the first batch of episodes.
It would be nice for Goosebumps to have more visual pop, but the series instead embraces a more “Pacific Northwest” tone and styling. It makes for some stunning landscape shots but is less successful as it moves indoors. With so many scenes inside labs, hospitals, and warehouses, Goosebumps is more visually bland than one might expect. Some of this changes in episodes six through eight, but in the first five, it’s a problem.
Anyone who likes the Goosebumps series should find something to like in this first season. There are plenty of nods to the most famous books, and their grounded interpretations are surprisingly great. While the titles of the episodes provide some slight spoilers (for book readers), the innovative storytelling makes this a surprising show. It’s guaranteed a fun time for anyone who ever cracked open a Night of the Living Dummy.