So Weird - Season 1 - Halloween Review
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Who are we kidding? Whenever we think of Disney Channel, we are prone to think of its shows as half-done, 'safe' shows meant to appease children, regardless of its artistic intentions. Granted, it did have some gems every couple of years, but the track record it had in terms of shows that had something valuable was pretty uneven.
But then, once in a while, you would find yourself stumbling into a show that not only delivered something beyond just to children but, as a result, it ended up leaving an impression on you, one that would stick with you for years just because of what it accomplished.
For many people, mostly from the late 90s and early 2000s - IE, my generation - that show would've been So Weird. And for the record, that's just the title, though the show was so weird sometimes.
Often described as 'The X-Files for kids', the story was about a young girl named Fiona 'Fi' Phillips, who lived with her older brother, Jack, and her mother, Molly, who was a rock-and-roll guitarist on tour. Because of that, the closest thing they had to a home was a tour bus, in which Molly went across the country, along with her manager, Irene, her husband and bus driver, Ned, and their son - not to mention Fi and Jack’s friend - Clu. While Molly was busy with her concert tours, Fi spent most of her spare time investigating local paranormal activities in whichever town or city they ventured into. Whatever she found, she documented them on a website of her own, entitled “Fi's So Weird Webpage". Most of the time, many of the cases Fi reported involved just debunking what were previously local legends or myths. This was usually met with scoffs by her brother, Jack, who thought she was just being paranoid or, of course, weird for even devoting her time over something like this. Nevertheless, Fi was determined to get to the bottom of whatever mystery she stumbled into, sometimes with Jack, Clu, or even Molly on her side.
Let me tell you the first thing I was surprised by about this show: whenever I reflected on this show, I only remembered just how ghoulish and eerie the show was. This was a huge cry from the general show you'd expect from Disney Channel, where it was mostly kid-friendly, pop-culture-oriented, and formulated the kid-sitcom, so to speak. The closest thing from Disney Channel I'd compare So Weird to is Gravity Falls and Andi Mack. Much like Gravity Falls, it centered around a young kid who was prone to sense something out of the ordinary and be determined to uncover the mystery, only rather than getting info on what she witnessed from elsewhere, she simply shared that info herself. And much like Andi Mack, it took the liberty to talk about real-world issues in a mature, delicate manner and even tie some of them to the show's overarching narrative. However, whereas Andi Mack was bright, chipper, and grounded, So Weird was dark, thoughtful, and surreal. Sometimes, the side-stories told through So Weird felt mostly like they were just side-stories as far as the characters were concerned - blatantly so with Andi Mack - but So Weird stuck to its roots and delivered what felt like a robust, very curious children's show about paranormal activity.
And speaking of paranormal activities, the show, as far as kids’ shows were concerned, did a nice job of introducing children, and arguably adults, to the multitude of legends and myths that Fi encountered, whether she discussed them through her website or even in the opening narration of each episode. Granted, this show made it look like the myths were valid and real, but the explorations would've allowed viewers to be more observant of the world around them and think amongst themselves what could be out there that we as humans would see as unusual activities or unexplained phenomena.
If you thought me putting together The Screened Word and my art portfolio website at all was impressive, even I think that's nothing compared to what Fi had in her arsenal: Fi, an 11-year old girl, constructing a website documenting paranormal activities of all kinds, through a laptop, with a wireless modem, in an ongoing tour bus, in the late 1990s. Man, am I impressed with her ingenuity! If you remember my review of Freakazoid, I thought the Internet in the late 1990s was just starting to take baby steps in reaching worldwide accessibility and informational potential. And to see someone as young and bright - in a sense - as Fi take advantage of that with such ease was always astounding to see.
The characters in the show felt very real and identifiable. And that, to me, was one of the greatest strengths of the show; unlike many other shows from Disney Channel, where the characters felt like up-and-coming performers and comedians, So Weird allowed the characters to express themselves more naturally, resulting in them feeling like actual people, people you would find yourself wanting to be acquainted with.
Fi was weird in probably the most endearing, irresistible way. Her fascination with whatever paranormal activities caught her eye gave her an unusual method of diving headfirst into the case, whether her family or, in some rare cases, anyone who questioned her logical legibility tried to talk her out of it. And, of course, we are talking about a young girl who had a tour bus for a home, barely had any education - though I’ll go more into that very shortly - and, more tragically, lost her father many years ago to a car accident, so part of that may have played a slight role in her documentations of the weird circumstances at hand. As a character, she was expressed very nicely. As a role model, I see her being a strong one to children, particularly little girls.
Her older brother, Jack, was a sensible, more realistic guy who sometimes felt like he was babysitting her younger sister when she was off on one of her paranormal escapades. But even then, I think part of his more realistic outlooks of life may also have occurred from the family misfortunes I mentioned earlier with Fi. One thing I liked about Jack was that, at first, he laughed at Fi’s discoveries as just those of a young girl being in Fantasyland and making things up as she went. But then, Jack started to get more involved in Fi's investigations to the point where he, too, believed in them, somewhat. But then, he still had misgivings about Fi's investigations, not because he didn't believe her, but because he thought she was too obsessed with the freaky goings-on and that she should just not worry about them for once. Those aspects in his character were very interesting, and they made him look like a conflicted, but well-meaning brother to someone like Fi.
Fi and Jack's friend, Clu, was a neat, mellow guy, though I wish there was more done with him. With his blonde hair, 'chillax' attitude, and eagerness for excitement, he kind of represented the surfer dude persona that was worshipped throughout the 1990s. Thankfully, however, his stereotypical qualities that would've come with surfer guy caricatures were never overplayed; they felt a little subdued, and they made him jibe quite nicely with Fi and Jack whenever he joined them on their adventures. Again, I wished his character could've been made more interesting like it was with Fi and Jack.
And then, you have the mother/rock-and-roll superstar, Molly Phillips. In every other movie or TV show, you'd expect the mother character to be super preoccupied with her profession and not care much about what her children were up to. But not so with Molly Phillips. Yes, she was a bit preoccupied with her profession, given the tour bus, and all the concerts she had to get set for, but she was also sensible and aware enough of Fi's paranormal activities, to the point where she felt like a good shoulder to cry on during their more uncertain periods. While she did not show as many uncertainties that may have occurred with her husband's death as Fi and Jack did, she still felt like a relatable human being who tried to balance out her professional pursuits with her own needs and those of her family. So, she was terrific.
The other characters who accompanied them on the bus were, I think, part of Molly's band, especially Irene, who usually did the scheduling and monitored the sound systems in Molly's concerts' bass systems. So, I think she was the manager if I'm not mistaken.
Her husband, Ned, was the bus driver, and I remembered him for two things. One was his voice. It felt a little rock hard and strong, but never awkward; they made him feel a little more charming to me. And the second was that he was the closest thing Fi, Jack, and his son, Clu, had to a teacher. This means that yes, Fi and Jack still had an educational system, but they were managed by Ned. So, this method of teaching was borderline homeschooling. Or should I say bus-schooling? Actually, that concept itself is a little weird.
The performances? Phenomenal. As I said, one of the key reasons this show struck a chord with so many people was because of the authenticity of the characters, and it goes without saying that that can be attributed to the acting in this show.
Dave 'Squatch’ Ward gave a decent performance in the show as Ned, even though I think that was because of the roughness in his voice.
Belinda Metz did a nice job of giving her character, Irene, a sense of conviction and a bit of a no-nonsense attitude. Sometimes, it made her look like the reasonable one in the group during their more strenuous situations.
Erik von Detten sure 'went with the flow’ - in a manner of speaking - as Clu. While the surfer dude persona felt at times like it was just an add-on, it still didn't stop him from having his moments of levity, fun, and occasional goofiness in times of otherwise stressful moments. This pretty much added to his overall delightful appeal.
Patrick Levis was terrific as Jack. Not only did he establish a sense of goofiness to his character from time to time, just like von Detten did with Clu, but his moments of tenderness, whether he was on his own, or with Fi, or his mother, they were the chief reason he was such a compelling brother figure. He had his silly moments, but he also had his moments of feeling like he was challenged in his beliefs and convictions. The emotional facade Levis toyed around with was nicely played.
Mackenzie Phillips nailed it as Molly Phillips. Huh! Go figure! Both the actress and her character shared the same last name. But that's beside the point. Phillips, who was already a talented musician in addition to being a good actress, was able to perfectly reflect each aspect of a mother who was on tour while still looking out for her family through Molly's character. Molly had the flexibility and rhythm of a musician, and her tender side felt convincing and motherly in every sense of the word. One factor that may have helped her out was that Phillips starred in American Graffiti as Carol Morrison, and it helped her as an actress experience the carefree adventures of children and young adults who ventured out and did their own thing while also expressing uncertainties over what the future might bring to them. So, whether you've seen American Graffiti or not, Phillips as Molly looked like she was reflecting on personal experiences as far as childlike expeditions were concerned, and this only strengthened whatever communications or affinities she had with both Fi and Jack. Long story short, Mackenzie Phillips hit it out of the ballpark as Molly.
And of course, you have Cara Delizia as Fi. She just went to town with her character! Besides having the basic sensibilities expected from your everyday 11-year old girl, the shady tones in her voice jibed perfectly with Fi's personality. That is to say when she was at her most contemplative and at her most preoccupied with her paranormal investigations. That kind of vocal inflection felt perfect for a girl who was so into strange and unusual circumstances. And, when she wasn't moody or contemplative, Delizia still acted like you'd expect any girl her age to react in certain day-to-day life events. Much like Levis and Phillips, Delizia knew how to take a character that showed some promise and boosted that character's interest factor to the max.
Another thing I respected about So Weird, where I'm at in the show so far, was the songs. All of them were performed by Mackenzie Phillips herself, and they expressed a shade of passion that livened up each song and made them more pleasing to the ear. What made it even better was that each song felt different in mood depending on the subject of the song. The main theme song, 'In the Darkness', was an epic, rousing song number that discussed the risks of venturing into uncertain things, and all with a twinge of an eerie underscore. I will never stop listening to that song, it is so good. Another song, 'Simplicity', was a catchy, lively song fit for such a simple town as Simplicity. But you also have 'Rebecca', from Rebecca. This was a very poignant song, and its emotional undercurrents hidden beneath the subjects being sung about love, loss, and a twinge of longing added up to a genuinely tragic song that may leave you in a more somber, contemplative mood after listening to it.
And I might add, for what it started with, So Weird's first season had plenty of great episodes to choose from. The only one, before I get into that, that felt pretty weird to me - and not in a good way - was 'Simplicity'. Never minding the jingle Molly wrote in this episode, which was catchy, the story was a little weak, the situations were too far-fetched, and even by So Weird standards, the computer head and his associates, for whom Molly wrote her jingle, were absolute screwballs.
Other than that, however, the rest of the season was great, with a few episodes being the cream of the crop. The most notable episodes from this season included (Warning: Spoilers afoot!):
WEB SIGHT: As Molly got geared up for her next concert, Fi got some strange emails on her laptop. But they were more than just random emails or spam mail; they contained pictures, audio clips, and video clips foretelling bad things to happen to Molly and their bus. This wigged Fi out, so she tried to immerse herself in what she witnessed from the emails so she could try to stop the events from occurring. The premise was very interesting, and the ending clued us into Fi and her family's psyche concerning their father indirectly and very early on in the show.
ANGEL: When Ned veered the bus away from a dark-clothed man standing in the middle of the road, everyone stayed over at the nearest house until the bus was repaired, but Fi noticed something off with the girl in the house, who started to show hints of having connections to the man in the road. What happened was that this man was an angel, the girl's guardian angel, and he turned out to be seeking Fi because that girl had leukemia, and Fi was her only hope as a bone marrow donor. The setup was a little spooky, and the ending, though tacky at first, was still pretty brave and awe-inspiring.
REBECCA: This episode chronicled a young girl who happened to be a childhood friend of Molly when she was Fi's age, and who unexpectedly left her behind. The girl's name was Rebecca, and at this stage in her life, she was prohibited from seeing Molly by her parents. When Fi tried to track her down and talk some sense into her, she told her that the reason she can't go to see Molly, and the reason she left her behind in the first place, was because she and her family were immortal. Immensely tragic, this episode had lots of unnerving moments, eye-opening aspects of Molly's character and past, and of course, a great, melancholy song.
SINGULARITY: After starting as a twisted version of The Sandlot, with the kids trying to retrieve a softball that fell into a grouchy man's backyard, this episode only got more interesting when Fi and Clu discovered a space-time vortex where their ball, plus many other balls, the grouchy man's dog, and then Clu, were all stuck in. This left Fi to begrudgingly comply with the grouchy guy, locally nicknamed Mad Max, to try to reverse the effects of the vortex. This episode was fun, trippy, had a bit of a sweet ending, and in my opinion, the conversations between Fi and Max felt suspenseful and hilarious at the same time. The urgency in the tone, the spontaneity of their arguments, they kind of reminded me a bit of the EpiPen scene from Pulp Fiction.
But the penultimate episode, LOST? That episode was the most thrilling episode I've yet seen of So Weird, as well as probably one of the most thrilling episodes ever broadcast on Disney Channel, right up there with Gravity Falls’ “Not What He Seems". Again, dealing with Fi and her internet shenanigans, this followed Fi as she got random messages from a little girl contacting her. Even though she didn't know who this girl was, and even though Molly at first thought it was just ramblings of some crazy person, they both decided to look further into the case about the girl. What they discovered, however, was that the girl who contacted Fi turned out to be in a coma for 14 years. And if that wasn't enough, due to a wiring mishap in the hospital room in which the girl was being treated, the wires connecting to the girl's brain also got connected to the Ethernet cables, thus enabling the girl, from within her coma, to contact Fi telepathically. And then, once all the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, Fi, Molly, and the girl's mother and aunt tried to speak with the girl through Fi's laptop and give her 'directions' to home, so to speak, and it all could have major effects for the girl if they succeeded. The surreality, the modest yet high stakes-induced adrenaline at hand, the emotions, they all just hit their mark and added up to a half-hour powerhouse of family, loss, and uncovering the unknown.
For so long, even though I never watched the show often as a kid, I do remember catching enough glimpses of the show for me to have caught on to what it was about, and I, like many others who grew up with the show, had a soft spot for it. The decades-long fascination that fans had over the show, however, was what added to my curiosity to discover what the deal was about concerning the show.
And I'll tell you right off the bat, as far as I know, the dedication and following it had over the years was 100% justified.
When you compare this to many other Disney Channel shows that came after it, if not before it, So Weird stepped outside of the boundaries that were expected from whatever aired on the network and delivered what was considered risky, innovative, and genuine works of television art. It played by its own rules, it expressed a dark, moody image, it introduced us to relatable characters, it took the time to address real-life issues without overdoing them, it tossed in some quality music for good measure...and it all left the show to be hailed as a hidden classic in the eyes of those who saw it. I said it plenty of times before, and I'll say it again: for family entertainment to be artistically brilliant, it needs to pull something off in a way that treats children seriously while acknowledging the adults enough to take them seriously too. And So Weird accomplished what it could in just its first season with the excitable adventures and curious discoveries that children would enjoy, fused with a spooky atmosphere, good music, relatability, good characters, and some compelling storytelling for the adults to relish in. And considering that the next season was twice as long as this, my curiosity over the adventures of Fi and the MP crew has definitely peaked.
Curious to catch on to Fi's paranormal adventures yourself? Well, fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a ghoulish ride.
My Rating: A-
Until then, as of this writing, you can catch this show exclusively on Disney+, so if you remember watching this show and have the service at your disposal, it's beyond worth a look.
One of the things that caught my interest in this show, besides catching a few snippets of it as a kid, was that it was often described as The X-Files for kids. I can understand that comparison, as it dealt with investigations into what's out there in terms of the truth while dealing with freaky mythical beings during the journey.
Speaking of which, something else I found interesting was that the pilot episode, Family Reunion, was directed by Shawn Levy, who you may recognize from Stranger Things. I think that was the perfect pick: much like Stranger Things several years down the line, this episode dealt with the adventures of a group of kids venturing into some freaky, tense situations that inadvertently tied into some family struggles.