Are You Afraid of the Dark? 1.6 "The Tale of the Super Specs"
Kristen chills with glasses-free Gary at his family’s magic shop – some of the guys have been saying Gary’s stories suck. At the meeting (David’s suspiciously missing because he’s sick…), Gary gets to prove why he’s the man in charge.
Legendary April Fool’s prankster Weeds and cool girl Marybeth have been dating for a few weeks (basically forever in middle school time). While hanging out at a magic shop, Weeds accidentally sprinkles a batch of “x-ray vision super specs” with magic dust made of ground up monkey bones. Marybeth starts to see weird things when she puts on the super specs, like shadowy figures and phantom teapots. She tries to get rid of the super specs, but they mysteriously keep finding their way back to her. Sardo, the owner of the magic shop, explains that the monkey-bone-dusted super specs have opened up a window and allowed beings from another dimension into our world. He tries to help but fails miserably. Then the universe as we know it threatens to implode, Donnie Darko style, things get hella trippy, and Marybeth, Weeds, and Sardo end up trapped in a crystal ball.
The formerly naysaying Midnight Society approves of Gary again. It happens to be April Fool’s Day in the real world, just like it was in the story. Gary hands out prop super specs, and David, dressed like a shadowy figure and apparently not sick at all, appears and scares the bejeezus out of everyone.
Troy: We get to see Kristen and Gary during the daytime! Great little scene. It would’ve been great if they’d done a few more of those. Not all the time, but judiciously. Oh well.
Erin: Right? It’s like seeing a cool teacher outside of school. Weird as heck but kind of exciting, because you’re like, “Oh, shit, Ms. So-And-So is a real person!”
T: Is there a schism in the Midnight Society? It feels like there’s the cool kids (Frank, Eric, and Kiki) and the outsiders (Gary, David, Kristen, and Betty Ann). Gary, David, and Kristen don’t even clue Betty Ann in on the prank, so I worry that Gary’s going to get sucked into the David/Kristen melodrama.
E: I love that the show gives us a taste of the group’s dynamics without overdoing it. You’re totally right about the schism, and you could easily build a whole show around that kind of drama. Instead, the writers throw in just enough to make the kids seem real but they don’t drag it out. The primary focus is still the story of the week. But yeah. Gary is screwed here. David and Kristin are totally one of those couples who seem unassuming but are quietly gathering power. Like the Underwoods.
T: Weeds and Marybeth are great leads. Are they the oldest duo yet? They have a great chemistry that feels spot-on middle school (they’ve been dating for a whole two weeks!). And I love that it’s an interracial relationship that doesn’t play into the story. It really tells me the Dark casting department sought talent without tying themselves to the assumed race of each character. Actor Eugene Byrd has had a steady career, notably recurring on Crossing Jordan and Bones.
E: I knew he looked familiar! And yes. These two work so well as a young teen couple. Like, they’re not all over each other but they seem to genuinely have fun together.
T: There’s so many little touches that go into the unsettling vibe. The techno music, the kaleidoscopic view that keeps the toy involved in the action. Why are the parallel people dressed head to toe in black cloth? No clue but it’s effective. And then the bit at the end with Weeds seeing them without the specs is a great reveal.
E: Am I the only one who caught some weird/hilarious background stuff in this episode? Marybeth’s family have a freaking cheetah cookie jar. A cheetah! And in one scene outside the school, there are kids in the background doing either bad tai chi or some bizarre interpretive dance, and no one bats an eye.
T: It’s super weird, right? In the first shot of the school, right before Weeds reads Voodoo Made Easy (a few years before Chucky and Tiffany used Voodoo For Dummies in Bride of Chucky), there’s a shot of a boy doing backflips between students on the lawn. The two girls Weeds pranks with the chipmunk voice are dressed identically. There’s these little otherworldly touches throughout the episode that are maybe meant to hint at a parallel dimension?
E: Oooooooh. I like this theory. Basically glitches in the Matrix before the Matrix was a thing.
T: Somehow the dark ending works really well. Maybe they only got away with having the good guys lose because of the comedic qualities in the episode?
E: Excellent point. Thus far, the protags have prevailed in most of the stories. This one leaves them fully in the lurch, but in a way that is just so bizarre it’s satisfying. Plus, Weeds is adorable but kind of a douche, right?
QUEER OR NOT?
T: You know, I didn’t catch a single – oh wait, what about that Mr. Sardo?
“That’s Sardo! No ‘Mister,’ accent on the ‘do’!”
Wowzers, Sardo is a great, queer coded character. He’s over the top camp fun and I am living for it.
E: Sardo is fantastic. The focus is always on the teen characters, as it should be, but good god I would love a Sardo-centric episode. You just know that guy goes on rad, magic-tinged adventures with this boyfriend and has a herd of half-feral cat children. You think he’s a fan of drag clubs?
T: Sardo isn’t just a drag fan, but I’m certain he offers discounts to magician queens so good that he’s “losing on the deal!”
TRIVIA, USELESS TRIVIA
T: This one’s inspired by John Carpenter’s 1980s cult classic, They Live, in which a pair of sunglasses are used to see a different reality.
E: I have no idea what you’re referring to. I’m just here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum. LOLOLOLOLOL. Just kidding. They Live is bananas. Everyone should see it. Do you think actor Roddy Piper really ad libbed the bubblegum line?
T: Yes and no. Roddy Piper came up with it, but checked with Carpenter before shooting, so it was pure Piper, but not spur of the moment.
E: Also, is this the first episode with the full opening sequence that’s basically a pastiche of creepy imagery?
T: They tried a few different openings, like the door one and the cold opening, but landed on the creepy montage and settled with it for the entire run of the series. It’s hard to think of the show without picturing that attic.
MODERNIZE ’90s CANADIAN KIDS
T: Maybe it’s the build-up of constant creepy stingers or that the leads both have individual scene partners, but this one feels like it could sustain an entire feature-length movie. Add in some material with a friend or two getting into hijinks and get some backstory on the voodoo, and it would play.
E: Totally. The underlying concept here is pretty dense. Teen stuff plus pranks plus magic plus parallel dimensions plus powerful interdimensional beings plus battles for our very existence? There is A LOT going on here and there are some serious layers that could be fleshed out. Also, do kids still play pranks? Or is that something that will get you suspended/arrested nowadays?
T: Pretty sure kids still play pranks, but they’re all psychological now, nothing that leaves a mark like Weeds setting up a boxing glove to punch out his buddy.
JUST GIVE IT A NUMERICAL RATING ALREADY
T: I want scary episodes to be scary and funny episodes to be funny. This one’s funny with an unnerving atmosphere and Sardo sells it so well. The parallel dimension reveal works at first, but it leaves questions, like why the black cloth if they’re normal people? Also, I wish they’d done more with the April Fool’s Day aspect. It feels a little last minute-y. That said, I’m giving it my highest yet at 9.1 OUT OF 10 CAMPFIRES.
E: Agreed. As much as I love the leads and want to hang out at a gay bar with Sardo, this story tries to do too much. It almost pulls it off, but not quite. I’ll go with an even 9.0 OUT OF 10 CAMPFIRES.