One of the most well-remembered shows from my youth is Eerie, Indiana. The show ran from 1991-1992 as I was entering my teens, and it fed my appetite for the bizarre and supernatural at a time where I was still a bit too squeamish for most horror films. It's available on DVD now in a complete collection, sadly missing is any form of extras, but for a show this cool having it on DVD is worth it alone. Joe Dante was a creative consultant, and frequent episode director, on the show, which featured other fine directors such as Bob Balaban(Parents) and Tim Hunter(The Rivers Edge). If the talent lineup is any indication to you, this family show was mature in a way that may surprise a lot of modern audiences. It was creepy-fun in a way that most Joe Dante projects are, but it was still surprising to me as to how dark some of these episodes became.
The show was a lot like a kids version of the X-Files(but before there was an X-Files). The two heroes, Marshal and Simon, are the only people in the town of Eerie Indiana who realize that it's the center of weirdness for the whole world, and each episode showcases another adventure they have in trying to gather evidence to show the world. Most often they don't try to prove anything to anyone, and instead merely catalog the evidence in their cluttered attic. The difference between this and other shows of the supernatural is that the show often doesn't try to explain the weirdness, or sometimes even resolve it. Often it just shows that the world is a strange place, and it's always going to be that way. It's a great message for kids that today would have to be wildly toned down from it's original dark roots.
One episode in particular has Marshal(our hero) vying with his best friend for the affections of the new girl in school, who also happens to have a heart condition and moved to Eerie so she could hopefully get a transplant(Eerie, Indiana is the best place to be if you need an organ quick). In the midst of the two friends showing off for the girl, Marshal's friend is hit by a car and dies, his heart ending up inside the new girl. To further complicate matters, every time Marshal goes to kiss his new love, she has what can only be described as a mild heart attack. To cap it off, there's an ending shot that may either be a throwaway joke or an implication that the girl dies in the end. That's probably off-putting to a lot of adults who never watched the show, but it really isn't that bad.
We have a tendency to look back on these stories of our youth and become shocked at how upsetting they are, but we all forget what it was like as a kid. Terry Gilliam has a great quote, which I'm going to boil down to it's essence here, that 'kids are the smartest audience'. Basically what we see as dark and scary kids see as a great adventure. We really underestimate what kids can process, and as a result end up homogenizing their entertainment. And that's a shame, because as a parent I'd really like for my daughter to have something like this, and it just doesn't exist anymore. Sure, she can watch my DVDs, but really, each generation should have it's own things, nostalgia isn't THAT healthy, especially when passed down the line.
Other episodes were often less dark, but never less weird, ranging from families keeping their children in large Tupperware containers so they never age, dogs plotting to overthrow their human captors, a vast underground storage area for every lost item in the US, and a sentient tornado that benevolently visits the town every year, avoiding doing any damage as long as the townspeople throw a festival. The highlight, and most surprising thing about the show, was a 4th wall shattering episode towards the end of the series that is more clever and unique than most episodic television, kids show or not. For this episode alone, which I will not spoil here, it's worth the price of the box set.
As far as complaints go, my only one is that the series ended too soon. That's a common complaint when something you like isn't around anymore, but in this case it's doubly true. The show was cancelled quickly into it's second season, leaving the back story of Dash X, the white-haired, amnesiac, sometime-friend sometime-nemesis of our heroes woefully incomplete. It's obvious the producers had an overarching story in mind, but with only 5 episodes the only hint we get is that it may involve an elderly alien who was stranded on earth for over a century. Other than that, though, the show was just as good as I remembered it.
I don't think it's just nostalgia tinting my vision. I think the show really is that good. Or at least that interesting, and definitely something that wouldn't be on the air today, at least not in this fashion. Just look at the late 90s remake for the Fox Kids block, which was watered down past the point of blandness. It really is a shame, because the world needs something like this today, fun and creepy and imagination-inspiring. Check it out!