So Weird - Season 3 / Series Recap
If you expect disappointment, then you can never really get disappointed. – MJ, Spider-Man: No Way Home
For the past two Halloweens, I looked over one of the most spellbinding shows Disney Channel had ever aired, So Weird. After premiering on Disney Channel in 1999, this show broke new ground by weaving arc-wide storytelling that benefitted its characters and the paranormal activities investigated within. It was demonstrated through the keen, observant eyes of Fiona ’Fi’ Phillips as she tagged along on her mother, Molly’s, countrywide concert tour. And for over two seasons, what started as an eerie detour from Disney Channel’s usual fare evolved into a compelling, exquisitely crafted series that uncovered more tidbits about Fi’s father and their family legacy that we never anticipated before. And it all culminated, satisfactorily yet quickly, in a steadfast, solid season 2 finale that wrapped up a good chunk of loose ends. It felt like a nice end to So Weird.
But there was one issue: So Weird was meant to last what was considered the standard syndication production for most TV shows at the time, 65 half-hour episodes. And near the end of So Weird’s second season, Cara DeLizia felt too restricted under the Disney label and wanted to pursue other acting opportunities outside of it. On top of that, Disney grew concerned about the show becoming too dark for its lineup, so they suggested that it should establish a softer tone that still maintained what set the show apart from the others.
The result? A third season that took on a noticeably lighter tone than the rest of the series before it, reunited Erik von Detten as Clu for several episodes, took place in Hope Springs High School from time to time, and most importantly, never even brought back Cara DeLizia as Fi. Instead, taking her place as the main lead was a globetrotting, aspiring young musician named Annie Thelen. Because, hey, what’s not to like about a new season of an already popular show that continued its story without all the needed ingredients necessary to make it work? Longevity over quality, am I right?
As the collective reaction from So Weird’s hardcore fans demonstrated, this third season was to So Weird what ‘The Goliath Chronicles’ was to Gargoyles and what ‘Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain’ was to Pinky and the Brain. It is a follow-up of a show that was held in supremely high esteem in the eyes of its fans, and its follow-up took the show in creative directions that turned many of its fans off.
However, each of these seasons ran for 13 half-hour episodes...compared to 26 in So Weird’s third season.
The first two seasons of So Weird amounted to one of my all-time favorite TV shows. So the idea of a follow-up season that established a lighter approach than the rest of the show before it felt like it was going to be a guaranteed trainwreck. At least, compared to the first two seasons, I expected it to be. When I discovered what So Weird originally meant to establish within its third season, that didn’t help, either. Initially, it meant to continue Fi’s story with – get a load of this – Fi journeying into Hell to retrieve her father, Rick’s, soul from eternal damnation.
According to executive producer Jon Cooksey, he plotted the story of Fi and Rick and wrote all the songs throughout the first two seasons to have them build up to the proposed third season. Even the lyrics of the theme song, ‘In the Darkness,’ were meant to foreshadow Fi’s role and eventual outcome in this season. And Cooksey admitted that its narrative was inspired by his all-time favorite book, ‘What Dreams May Come’ by Richard Matheson. He was fascinated with the idea of how the main character would rather have been in Hell with his loved one than be up in Heaven without her and wanted to execute the same story methods with Fi and Rick.
This was an ambitious idea to consider with So Weird, but in the eyes of Disney Channel, this was way too dark and risky. So, we’re stuck with a third season that pertained more to what Disney Channel usually expected from their shows: light-hearted fun mixed in with unusual elements that had a prominent role in the characters’ dilemmas. But in the case of So Weird, its fans looked at Disney Channel like playing it too safe was what did the show a great disservice, not the dark material it was careful enough to handle, anyway.
So, with all of this in mind, topped off with the negative legacy it left on the show’s die-hard fans, I lunged into the third season, preparing for the worst. Is it as bad as all the So Weird fans said it was?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wouldn’t go that far. But still...
Here’s what’s going on. After Molly announced her contemplations of performing her last public concert in ‘Encore’ last season, she and her family rested a bit at their old wooden cabin in Hope Springs, Colorado. Meanwhile, after putting up with all the paranormal activities throughout the show’s first two seasons, Fi needed time to calm down and live a healthier, more normal life. So, she arranged this by asking her Aunt Melinda from Season 1’s ‘Strangling’ to let her live with her throughout the next school year in Seattle, Washington.
Actually, you know what? Welcome to my world, Fi.
Besides needing to decompress, Fi wanted to arrange this so she wouldn’t have had to be a burden on Molly during her concert tour. At the same time, Molly was visited by an old friend named Lisa, who asked Molly to watch over her daughter around Fi’s age, Annie Thelen, while she and her husband were away in Pakistan. Pretty soon, Fi and Annie met up, and Annie started catching wind of how the Phillipses did their thing, especially the paranormal activities Fi investigated before they met. Before she left, Fi left Annie with her great-grandmother’s ring, with the Irish engravings, as a token of good luck.
After that, within Annie’s first several days of her stay with the Phillipses in Hope Springs, she attended high school with Jack and even Clu, on top of settling in a new house that Molly and the band moved to after selling their old wooden cabin. I’ll admit that this transition felt a bit too sudden for me. And, with Irene Bell’s encouragement, Molly decided to jumpstart her countrywide '2000 Tour’, with everyone, including Annie, tagging along for the ride.
Throughout this new turn of events, Annie started witnessing some of the unusual goings-on that Fi would unhesitatingly have dived into. They ranged from investigating a spiritually inhabited desk at the high school to noticing some musicians at Molly’s favorite recording studio walking out with their talents taken away from them to running into who seemed to be a muse wandering around where Molly met Rick. Along the way, Annie came to appreciate what she had in common with the Phillipses and the band, including her aspirations to become a musician, just like Molly. And, more intriguingly, she noticed what seemed to be a black panther following her around, only it was more or less the spiritual kind. So, what was the panther doing? Why was it following Annie around? And what significance did it play in her life? All these questions caught Annie’s curiosity as she traveled across the country, investigated the mysterious paranormal activities in every town they stayed in, and potentially grew to be a surrogate daughter in the family.
As I breezed through this season, let me tell you my first major problem with it. Whenever I watched “So Weird” with Fi, I felt like I was transported into her world, where she always observed paranormal investigations with confidence in her beliefs, even if it set her apart from her peers, like in school. And amidst her investigations, she uncovered something that exposed elements of her family background, including how her father, Rick, was a paranormal investigator when he was alive, just like Fi. In turn, it contributed to the deepening of the show and its story, along with its mystical, almost epic feel.
In “So Weird” with Annie, however, I felt like her in terms of looking at all the paranormal activities. Raised as an average teenager in an ordinary yet world-traversing life, Annie tried to wrap her head around the validity of the normally out-of-the-ordinary paranormal activities. As engaging as it was to see, it left me in a position where I felt like I relearned what I picked up on throughout the first two seasons, this time through the eyes of a newbie. And I can recall plenty of times where this point of view left me suspending my disbelief as I witnessed the activities being delved into. But, in Fi’s case, I didn’t have to do that because her character and stories were well-written enough to keep me hooked and believing what she believed.
Plus, the touching moments Annie shared with the Phillipses and Bells felt hard to wrap my head around since she was unrelated to them. At least, not by blood. So, this causes a major disconnect between the characters this time around.
This was interesting, though, because the entire band was just two families huddling together, as was Annie, the daughter of Molly’s old friend. So, the idea of family extending beyond bloodlines was not that unheard of in So Weird. Also, Annie’s adventures with the Phillipses and the Bells felt equivalent to an adopted child assimilating more within her adopted family as she caught on to their legacy when she wasn’t busy appreciating the love they were starting to share. It reminded me a bit of what Kelly Baldwin went through in For All Mankind’s second season, so the signs apparent within Annie’s settlement into the family were not without some interesting comparisons.
Yet, the only reason I felt like this was not jibing well with me was because Annie was never mentioned or even hinted at throughout the first two seasons. ‘Lightning Rod’, the season’s first episode, was the first time she was seen and even mentioned in the show. Had she been given a little more buildup earlier in the show, then her entry into the show would’ve felt more natural.
But she wasn’t. So Weird already got its headstart with a firm narrative laid out to span all three seasons. But because of Disney’s uncertainties in response to the direction the show meant to take, it nixed the plans for its intended third season and threw this character in to keep So Weird running as only they saw fit.
Another central element of this season that was already made famous by the show’s fans is its lighter approach than the first two seasons. Back then, the show’s darkness contributed to the fruitful legacy it left behind. It explored dark territory while also focusing on its characters, struggles, and plot elements that would have played a significant role later in the story. Here, the show focused on more generic issues like clearing up certain misunderstandings about paranormal activities or engaging in weird turnouts that would have played no significant role later in the season. Well, except for Annie’s black panther, of course. That, and the season didn’t generally focus too much on the struggles that characters like Molly, Jack, Irene, Bud, Karey, or even Clu went through, like in the first two seasons. Instead, they all just expressed some memorable moments, whether for touching moments or humorous moments; they made no significant contribution to the show’s season since what was meant to be established with them was already done earlier in the show.
When the show dwelled in Hope Springs, it detailed some of the paranormal activities Annie dug into as she went to the high school. I must admit, not only was this a little too formulaic by ‘So Weird’ standards – I mean, how many Disney Channel shows can you think of that took place in middle or high school? – but the school’s presentation felt way off. I went to both elementary and secondary school where I live in Ridgway, Colorado, and let me tell you, they felt nothing like the high school that Hope Springs had. It felt too colorful and looked more like a set piece or even an elementary school than a high school. Lord knows that some high schools may look precisely like this, and I just didn’t know it, but in the case of both the show and the location, it just felt out of place.
And, the paranormal investigations that seemed circumstantial but later played a role in something more significant down the road? This season, the paranormal investigations remained primarily circumstantial. Because of this season’s more episodic nature, the situations and hurdles Annie, the Phillipses, and sometimes the Bells got involved in were mostly resolved by the end of each episode, and then it was off to the next freaky adventure. Again, this was all part of the light-hearted nature that Disney Channel aimed for with this show’s season. Because of this, it became yet another reason why So Weird’s third season felt more disconnected from the rest of the show. And since the main lead was Annie Thelen, a new character, and not Fi Phillips, it took away some of the dark charm and intricate grandeur that benefitted the show earlier.
This reminds me, how are the characters this season?
The returning characters still expressed themselves as we would generally expect them to, if not on as deep a level as we’re used to from them. Ned Bell was still the likable guy who was the bus driver and taught Jack, Karey, and even Clu what they needed to learn as their bus-teacher, if you will. Irene Bell still navigated Molly around with where and how to schedule her next concert tour while providing logical solutions to whatever confusing occurrence they had. In his several reappearances throughout the season, Clu still carried on his usual goofy attitude. This season, however, his characterizations were tweaked to a point where what he returned with was quite surprising. For example, because he went to college and studied philosophy, he engaged in some intriguing examinations about the core principles of certain situations he and his buddies confronted. Sometimes, they were funny or fascinating, but other times, they felt weird coming out of someone so wild and upbeat.
Karey, Clu’s older brother, still tagged along, but I can’t help but feel like he still played little to no part in the show. Sometimes, he acted like the mediator between Clu’s wilder antics and Jack’s more grounded approach to certain things. Last season, he admitted that he wanted to play with Molly in her concerts, but I don’t recall seeing him play alongside Molly that often this season. So, he felt a bit pointless in the grand scheme of things.
Meanwhile, Jack was still the more grounded guy who expressed reservations about what paranormal activities counted as valid or if any of them were worthy of being taken seriously. This time, he usually acted this way around Annie, and not Fi like in the past two seasons. Jack even started to believe that Annie was just as unusual as Fi because of her investments in something that he felt shouldn’t be made such a big deal out of. Regardless of who he addressed his thoughts to, he still demonstrated that he was the Doubting Thomas of the group.
There were other times, though, when he showed some regret and accepted the validity of the few paranormal activities he dealt with firsthand. For example, in one episode, Jack was reminded of a bad experience when he accidentally threw a golf ball at his neighbor’s house and told no one about it until Annie asked him about it.
Though, this does remind me, how would he not have told Fi, of all people, about it? What compelled him to share his secret with Annie and not her?
Anyway, that same night, he heard voices from an old phone belonging to the recently-deceased old neighbor that Annie brought home from his house, and the old neighbor pressured Jack to atone for what he had done to his house many years ago.
On top of that, he even admitted to expressing interest in learning about photography. He acknowledged that part of his interest was related to seeing his mother’s picture on the wall with Rick when they both performed together. He became intrigued by the idea of capturing something guaranteed to last forever. It looks like Clu wasn’t the only character catching on to new avenues this season. So, even though Jack was still the same this season as in the earlier seasons, his explorations of his personal feelings and contemplations of paranormal activities tested him in ways that contributed to his engagement as a character.
Molly Phillips still carried the same instincts as expected from a gifted musician who traveled across the country on tour while looking out for her family and friends all at once. However, this time, she expressed some uncertainty about her conditions. They included the decision to get back on the road to perform her songs again, the idea of adjusting to Fi not being around and having Annie as her surrogate daughter instead, and even the hesitations about revisiting what she dismissed as haunting memories. I don’t feel like her dilemmas were dived into as much as they could’ve been, but they were still hinted at throughout the season, and it made the more tender moments she shared feel even more genuine.
And then, you have Annie Thelen. How is she as a character and not just a replacement?
At first glance, she felt like a bubbly young girl with a gift for music and a generally modest disposition, and she admitted to having dealt with some weird stuff before, even if they concerned what made her stand apart from other people. For one thing, she had experience traveling across the globe with her parents; she was also born in Peru among a group of Amazonian natives before she went on tour with her parents. As I mentioned, shortly after settling in Hope Springs with the Phillipses, she discovered a possible presence from what seemed like a black panther following her around. Annie was not a bad character, quite honestly. The way she felt more like an ordinary teenage girl discovering things that felt unusual for someone like her was intriguing to watch. It felt even more fascinating because of how she interacted with other people, whether it was with Jack, Molly, anyone else within the band, whoever else she met on the bus tour, or even with people who happened to be one of her old acquaintances. Don’t get me wrong, Annie Thelen felt too standard compared to Fi Phillips. But for Annie Thelen, a bright female lead character of a Disney Channel show, to be just plain decent instead of annoying like I feared she would be, that’s quite an admirable achievement. In addition, and I’m just going to say it, the little details about her background and connections with her friends and biological family kept me a bit hooked. They contributed a bit of soul-searching for Annie while she tagged along with Molly on her bus tours and ran into the paranormal activities the likes of which Fi dealt with. Strangely, it demonstrated a sense of belonging that Annie sought out, and how there had to be something, someone, and someplace where she felt like she was truly home.
Not only that, but get a load of this assessment. Unlike Fi, who only had experience discovering all the weird things she saw across the county, Annie may already have done that across the globe. Doesn’t that sound like a fantastic idea, getting to uncover weird elements occurring wherever one travels across the world? That would’ve felt more epic even compared to what Fi encountered in her journey. The closest Fi ever got to exploring paranormal activities worldwide was when she discovered the membrane that contained the spirit realm in Great Britain in ‘Strange Geometry. ‘Imagine a young high school girl traveling across the globe and uncovering mysterious paranormal activities along the way.
Granted, Annie’s investigations dived more into her past than they did her connections, and even those were few and far between. Still, I admire how Annie was at least written with enough engaging qualities to instill some value in her as a character.
Plus, whenever I thought of Annie’s gift for music and how much she wanted to be a musician like Molly, it made me reflect on how Fi inherited her desire for paranormal investigations from Rick. Imagine how things would’ve been like if these two got together more and contributed more to one another, and maybe with Molly, than they have this season. These dynamics could’ve guaranteed some exciting revelations about these characters if that’s what the third season could’ve gone for.
Another thing I must note here is that it continued the tradition of having the main character narrate certain unusual investigations that would’ve prefaced the subject of its episode. Cara DeLizia mastered it throughout the show’s first two seasons, whereas this time, it was Alexz Johnson narrating the beginning of each episode. I find it a little inconsistent because Fi Phillips introduced each episode because she was the type of girl who accumulated whatever info she gathered on the paranormal activities she highlighted. This season, it was Annie narrating, and it would seem out of place because Annie was the one experiencing the paranormal activities, arguably for the first time. Not to mention, she always turned to the So Weird website, and even Fi herself, for advice on how certain paranormal activities worked.
It would’ve felt in character if Annie was writing in a diary or something. But here, the narrative tone didn’t mesh well with Annie’s characterization.
Surprisingly, though, this is all I could think of as to what was generally under par this season. The remaining elements I will address might have had more good than bad.
To start with, I was generally impressed with the performances of everyone involved in this show. Despite So Weird’s shift in tones in-between seasons, the actors and actresses still conveyed their characters with the same dignity we’d hoped for in a show generally aimed at preteens. For example, in her final performance in this show, Cara DeLizia still hit it out of the ballpark as Fi Phillips. She still conveyed her character with the same everyday mannerisms of a little girl while also infusing it with the unusual inflections of someone addicted to investigating paranormal activities. Even as DeLizia’s role in ‘So Weird’ came to a close, she still did wonders with her character, just as she had throughout the rest of the show.
Alexz Johnson also displayed her character, Annie, with a noticeable level of grounded mannerisms typical of a teenage girl. But her tendency to want to troubleshoot what she felt was out of the ordinary felt slightly appropriate for someone who spent most of her life traveling around the world with her parents. As a result, Annie may have seen things that Fi, Molly, or anyone else may not have seen. Sometimes, she expressed slight homesickness, too, like when she missed her parents because of how they were away in Pakistan or how she wanted to know more about the Phillipses, sometimes as a surrogate daughter, sometimes as a good friend. I’ll mention Alexz Johnson’s other talents this season when I get around to it.
But to make a long story short, Alexz Johnson felt like an impressively satisfactory actress to portray a new character replacing an already beloved character. I missed Cara DeLizia’s performance as Fi, no question about it, but Alexz Johnson brought more to the table as Annie than I expected her to deliver, which I find impressive.
The real reason this season was not as bad as I expected it to be may have been because of the performances of the returning actors. Mackenzie Phillips still had the same motherly demeanor, as did Belinda Metz with her sense of dignity, Dave’ Squatch’ Ward with his gravelly voice, Eric von Detten with his ‘chillsville’ attitude, Eric Lively with the same modest demeanor, and Patrick Levis with the same know-it-all mannerisms, that each of them gave their characters throughout the show. I understood that they all had a lot to work with as the next season of a show they spent the past two seasons perfecting their performances in went in a different direction than what they were used to. So, the idea that they still played their characters as if nothing happened, even into the show’s renegotiated third season, makes me tip my hat to them all.
For all the inadequacies So Weird put up with in its third season, there is one element that I don’t believe ever lost its touch—the change in themes and tone notwithstanding—and that’s the music. The songs performed this season still carried the same zingy fashion, catchy melodies, and meaningful lyrics that the songs from the first two seasons conveyed. Half of them were performed by Mackenzie Phillips and were undoubtedly fantastic. However, what’s new this season is that the other half of the songs were performed by Alexz Johnson. And let me tell you, she felt like an incredible singer here! She had that slight vocal trembles you’d associate with many pop girl singers, but her singing consistency felt succinct and pretty to listen to. I eventually found out that several years after the show ended, Alexz Johnson became a highly regarded singer in her own right, with plenty of mainstream albums under her name being released. So, it makes this season look like a surprisingly apropos platform for her to perfect her singing skills.
However, there were times when her performances and deliveries of her songs were a little too gimmicky. You know what I mean; this was back when Disney Channel was still testing out its successful formulas on some of its existing shows, like with music performed by the main female lead. And there are two things to keep in mind here. One, this season aired between 2000 and 2001, and back then, teenage pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera still took the world by storm back in the day. And two, one of Disney Channel’s most popular shows, Lizzie McGuire, made its premiere in the middle of So Weird’s third season’s run. Nonetheless, Alexz Johnson’s songs still carried on what Mackenzie Phillips’ songs had done, sometimes even side-by-side with her. Some of the songs were more generic than others, but none of them felt out of tune.
Believe it or not, there was even one instance where Patrick Levis participated in the music, too. In the episode, ‘Changeling’, Jack sang a lullaby to a deformed monster, a changeling, that he thought was a baby he was asked to look after – don’t ask – and this song was a lullaby sung to him by Rick when he was still alive. Not only was the song lovely, but Patrick Levis’ singing was very soothing and had an excellent lyrical quality. It was impressive to see more than just one cast member partaking in song-performing in this show.
As I started the third season, the first few episodes made me feel like the show took a massive dip in quality from what was established before, especially with its heightened focus on Annie’s adventures in Hope Springs High School. And I feared it would’ve stayed that way for the remainder of the season. But surprisingly, the show did at least carry elements of what it already mastered and handed it out in equal measure in this third season, if also with lesser artistic commitment than before. So now, were all the episodes as bad as people said they were?
Well, I honestly doubt that. I’ve dealt with more tasteless or clumsily handled episodes of good TV shows before, like Foster’s Home’s ‘Foster’s Goes to Europe,’ Regular Show’s ‘Best Burger in the World,’ or Lost’s ‘Fire+Water.’ They all suffered because they attempted to achieve specific creative situations that instead did as much of a disservice to the characters as they did to the audience watching these episodes. The episodes in So Weird’s third season didn’t feel as godawful by comparison. They’re just weak at worst.
But now, I will say that the closest one I’ve seen that felt a bit frustrating was the episode ‘Earth 101’. What happened in this episode? Molly, Annie, and the gang were gearing up to head back to Hope Springs to meet up with Fi, who had returned to Hope Springs from Seattle. Meanwhile, Annie was anticipating a phone call from her parents in Pakistan for the occasion, also in Hope Springs. In doing so, however, they were perpetually blockaded by a couple of aliens who took on the forms of human beings so they could study the human beings on Earth. Not only did these ‘human’ aliens look stilted in their movements, but the way they talked and learned what went on in front of them made them express an embarrassing amount of naivete that clouded their otherwise sophisticated sense of intelligence. Plus, all their attempts to study human interaction and values did more harm than good. Even the aliens from the first two seasons, however nonexistent their onscreen appearances were, still carried an eerie presence that gave them a level of dignity. But these aliens? I don’t know if they have ever even traveled outside their own planet before, have they?
Step aside, Ted Raxall. These guys are the most awkward characters I’ve ever seen in this show!
The gang did make it to Hope Springs by the end of the episode, and we even see a shot of Molly embracing a young girl who apparently stood in for Cara DeLizia as Fi. But that scene was shot from a slight distance, and while the message is still evident, it wasn’t the same as having Cara DeLizia around to play Fi. And what makes this more unnerving as an episode is that this is the show’s Thanksgiving special. That was the characters’ motivation in this entire episode, and the aliens were curious to see what was so special about a tradition like Thanksgiving. The idea of showing the main characters going through hurdles instead of settling down over Thanksgiving dinner usually sounds promising. Heck, the mere idea to show the struggles to make it to Thanksgiving dinner, not just on Annie’s end but also on Fi’s end, would’ve felt like the perfect kind of Thanksgiving special fit for ‘So Weird.’ But as it played out, its situations felt more like a mandated equivalent of what Steve Martin went through in ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.’ I’d rather stick with the Christmas special, ‘Fountain.’
Okay, I better steer away from that episode because, despite the episodes being nothing to write home about this season, it is not without some good episodes that even the casual So Weird fan should consider squeezing in on occasion.
The episodes set in Hope Springs High School were generally dull. But for me, the most effective one is called ‘Eddie’s Desk.’ Annie discovered an old desk in the janitor’s office and heard strange voices as she sat at that desk. It compelled her to look more into the original student who sat at that desk back in the 1950s named Eddie and find out how his spirit, if that’s what she heard, still inhabited it. But without giving anything away, all I can say is that it led to questions about whether the spirit was Eddie’s or if Eddie was still alive by this point. I believe what it culminated in may have been experienced before by Fi in the show. But the way the show addressed it within a high school environment felt like the closest I’ve seen where the dilemmas concerning the school and the paranormal activities Annie uncovered went hand in hand.
Another episode that felt surprisingly moving despite its logical implausibility was ‘Rewind.’ Annie, Molly, Jack, and Karey went and saw a recording studio that Molly said was famous for recording some major hits by well-known artists. And impressively, Annie quickly composed a song that she wrote down as she toured the music studio; she already came up with the melody beforehand. But the eerie elements kicked in when Annie met a young girl named Jennifer, who oversaw the artists’ creative processes in the studio and established herself as a talented musician in her own right. But as Annie did some digging, she slowly realized that the reason she was as gifted as she was might have had something to do with her mastering what her visiting artists brought with them almost too perfectly. The ongoing behind-the-scenes drama in this episode played almost like a mix between ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Space Jam.’ However, the emotional engagement of the characters, especially with Jennifer and her mother, brought out some very heartfelt, tragic occurrences. Not only that, but as Annie played the song she wrote, more digging within its recording session uncovered a hidden element to her piece that traced back to her days in Peru. It was an undeniably creepy yet heartfelt episode with some good music and a slight but eye-opening uncovering of Annie’s past.
Do you remember what I mentioned about Annie discovering muses in Molly’s old hometown? Well, that’s the subject of ‘The Muse,’ and believe me, it held much more in store than its premise suggested. What happened was that Molly and her band visited this familiar town as part of their tour, and for Molly, it was a painful trip back through memory lane. Annie, at first, was excited because she found who she thought was a potential muse. Annie hoped that he would help Molly overcome her fears of being back in this town, the same concert hall, and even in the same hotel, all where Molly met Rick 18 years ago, with just the right inspiration to put on a show for her upcoming concert. However, Annie was dismayed that this ‘muse’ she found turned out to be an amateur muse, someone who at least got the hang of ‘musehood.’ What’s great about this episode, never minding the setup, was how it demonstrated that confronting your fears may not always be easy, but you must do it sooner or later so you would feel more content with where you came from and where you are now, no matter what happened to you. And it demonstrated that the right inspiration could come from anyone from anywhere when you least expect it. And I won’t give away what happens in the ending, but all I can tell you is that though it did so more modestly by comparison, it might’ve given Molly as much closure concerning Rick as ‘Twin’ did for Fi last season.
There’s another episode that genuinely felt like a ‘So Weird’ episode entitled ‘Gone Fishin”. In this episode, Annie, Jack, and Irene settled in a lakeshore resort while Molly was away to complete her still-in-progress songs. During their stay there, however, Annie heard local chatter about a monster lurking in the lake. Some residents, like a young boy named Peter, denied that there was a monster around, whereas his father insisted that there was. The discovery of footprints on the shoreline, plus a key that Annie and Jack found when they fished together, spurred Annie to look further into this. As she dug further into this discovery, she uncovered an ugly truth lurking beneath the façade of the lakeside resort that revealed what, or who, the monster was and where he and the key came from. This episode felt like a good mystery, with clues of something out of the ordinary being uncovered bit by bit, and it benefitted from having an eerie sense of atmosphere hovering over the resort during Annie’s investigations. It honestly felt like something out of ‘Twin Peaks’ at times.
From what little I read about So Weird’s third season in the eyes of the show’s fans, one of the most ironically celebrated of its episodes was ‘Annie’s Song.’ And after seeing it, yes, I can understand why they would’ve loved it so much. Here, Annie and the gang visited a Native American facility and engaged in fascinating discoveries about the Native Americans’ culture and activities. However, things got out of hand when a young visitor named Maria went missing. So, Annie and the gang partook in a rescue mission in a nearby forest to find Maria with a shaman who oversaw the rituals they saw earlier. Little did they know, however, that Maria returned to her mother on the other side, which means that Annie and her peers were led elsewhere from society by the shaman. It turned out that the shaman was inhabited by the spirit of Coyote, which the Native Americans usually saw as being a chief trickster. Not only did this episode also drench in atmosphere, but during her time there, Annie slowly started remembering fragments of what went on back in her old life in Peru. As the episode progressed, it provided some incredible discoveries, such as why Coyote, as the shaman, led Annie into the forest and, most importantly, why Annie had her black panther spirit. It even ended with a pretty song, “Cause You’re Watching Over Me’, sung impressively by Alexz Johnson and highlighting the trials and errors to be experienced from the discoveries one can make. Alexz Johnson went as far as to say that of all the third season’s episodes and songs she sang, this episode and song are her favorite. And I find myself agreeing with her. Not only did this episode add tremendous worth to Annie and her journey with these nicely edited expositions into her past in Peru, but the song sounded and felt like one of the most genuine songs she ever sang here. This song wasn’t like the other songs, which felt like they were written and rehearsed in advance. As Alexz sang it, this song felt more like she was singing from the heart, mainly because she may have known it by heart. It made this episode truly live up to its name, and this episode made for a fantastic revelation for a character generally dismissed as a ‘So Weird’ replacement. I was also amazed by how it explored various traditions, whether it’s Native American culture or Peruvian culture, and how interconnected they may potentially be. It was super interesting to think about since the closest we ever got to traditional explorations concerning Fi for the past two seasons centered around Irish mythology. Besides Alexz Johnson’s performance, this episode was one of the factors concerning Annie that made me feel like there was more to her and her side of the story than I was led to anticipate this season. Like the first two seasons of the show, this episode went above and beyond what it’s supposed to do, and that’s reason enough for me to have a soft spot for it.
But by far, my favorite episode of the whole season, for obvious reasons, is the first one, ‘Lightning Rod’. I enjoyed this episode because of how it got the ball rolling on what to expect, or avoid, in the third season. But more importantly, you can easily call this episode ‘So Weird in a Nutshell’ because it had everything you’d usually associate with ‘So Weird’ under one roof.
Annie Thelen's entrance into the show.
A taste of both her background and her talents.
Clu in his first appearance in the show since early last season.
One last good look at Molly's old wooden cabin before Molly sold it off.
Molly, Jack, Karey, Irene, Ned, and of course, Fi Phillips in Cara DeLizia's final performance in the show.
Oh, and let's not forget Fi's old archnemesis, Bricriu, in his and Fi's final showdown.
For a season premiere, I relished how it had everything I loved about the show as the characters settled more into their transitional phase, with Annie moving in with the Phillipses, Fi contemplating settling in Seattle with Aunt Melinda, and Molly debating on whether to go on tour again. On top of that, it felt exciting to see Fi and Annie in the same room as they got acquainted and talked about what they did in their own time. Whenever I look at the first two seasons, it was Fi’s show, whereas the third season felt like Annie’s show. In which case, it makes this look a bit like a crossover event.
But it’s not just the characters. At one point in this episode, Bricriu meant to take over Annie’s body before he was blocked by what he considered an unknowable force surrounding Annie. As the season would later reveal, it was the spirit of the black panther guarding Annie against Bricriu. Blended elements like this do justice to both sides of the show and ensure exciting storytelling as long as they complimented each other appropriately.
Some parts of this episode felt a little sloppy, such as most of the characters’ final decisions almost coming out of nowhere and how Fi ultimately did Bricriu in. Not to mention, it had a lot to juggle with its characters. Considering all the craziness behind the scenes because of Cara DeLizia departing from the show, though, can you blame Tom J. Astle for this? Nevertheless, I consider myself a “best-of-both-worlds” kind of guy, and the performances, interactions, and transitional phase in this episode helped make it a genuine standout. Plus, it has Cara DeLizia as Fi Phillips in the otherwise retooled third season. That has to amount to something.
In fact, if you’re like me and adore the ‘So Weird’ that starred Fi but don’t care very much for the ‘So Weird’ that starred Annie, you can easily write this off as the show’s epilogue and call it good.
Do you know what I said about Gargoyles’ ‘Goliath Chronicles’ and ‘Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain’ and how So Weird’s third season is on the same page as them as far as reputations go? This show might share one other thing in common with these shows that I’m sure many of the follow-ups’ commentators pointed out: in concept, it’s a terrible idea, but in execution, it’s not without some nuggets of gold to be dug out of it.
I must say, I was also intrigued by the final episode, ‘The River’, where Annie was meant to receive a package that contained a Grecian urn filled with water that floods away memories. Before Annie received it, Jack and Clu found it first and, as they played catch with it, accidentally shattered the urn, releasing the magic of the water from the urn and becoming affected by it. What followed was Jack, Clu, Molly, and Karey forgetting who Annie was. The rest of the episode was simply a recap of season three, as Annie tried to reignite the main cast’s memories of her and their adventures together. But I found this episode so fascinating because of the general feeling I got out of it. After 25 episodes of the third season taking ‘So Weird’ in creative directions that its hardcore fans didn’t want it to go, this episode decided to do what went through their heads and stick it to Annie through the main cast’s (temporary) amnesia of her and their adventures together. It’s almost like the show’s longtime fans returned after a long hiatus with a vengeance.
It made this episode feel intriguing as a season finale but slightly embarrassing as a series finale. I still consider last season’s ‘Twin’ as its true series finale.
Usually, in any show that underwent some renegotiations with its plot, you’d expect it to not acknowledge the characters or plotlines tossed aside in the transition. But in this season, while Fi didn’t make it this season, she was not thrown out of the equation. Some of the returning characters mentioned how much they missed Fi, and as I mentioned, I at least saw a little bit of her by the end of ‘Earth 101’. Annie even chatted with Fi via email about the paranormal activities she ran into sometimes to see if Fi knew anything about it. I enjoy watching them both chat like this, especially since it’s primarily a newbie learning about the ins and outs of paranormal activities from someone with more experience. Plus, Fi was the one accumulating all the information about what she experienced, and Annie relied on her for that information. Even though it’s weird to think that these girls were roughly the same age, you can say that Annie became the Mary Russell to Fi’s Sherlock Holmes or the Dipper Pines to Fi’s Stanford Pines.
There’s a lot of good to be gained from both sides of So Weird: the one with Fi and, to a certain extent, even the one with Annie. They each functioned by their own set of rules and progressions that hinted at something far greater being on the horizon for the main characters to endure than what’s on the surface. And what’s more, they always surprised you with some interesting revelations to be dug out of every paranormal investigation Fi and Annie uncovered, even if Fi’s story was clearly the one that was told the most masterfully.
But the transition between these two elements of the show is where the show underwent a slight existential crisis. Because Disney was concerned over the show’s dark nature, on top of Cara DeLizia wanting to pursue other acting opportunities outside of Disney, a lot was hanging in the balance as So Weird was two seasons in and unsure of which direction to take. With 39 episodes aired of the 65 promised as part of the show’s syndication deal, there would’ve been many ways’ So Weird’ could’ve pulled through with what it had left. One option is it could’ve taken the easy way out and cut off ‘So Weird’ where it was after ‘Twin’ aired.
But the other option? Personally, if So Weird wanted to continue with a third season that would’ve tried to push as many boundaries as the first two seasons had, it could’ve…
A. …gone for broke and continued Fi's story as it meant to do, with Fi descending into Hell to rescue her father, even if it meant that Cara DeLizia would've had to hold it off for another year to make the show end properly. It would also have meant that Disney Channel would've had to take some risks with it, not that it's something it should be ashamed of trying, anyway. Or it could've…
B. …started 100% fresh and introduced an entirely new ensemble of characters and locations into the equation, not just Annie Thelen, her globetrotting experiences, her musical talents, and her panther spirit.
And I mean it about the last consideration. As I pointed out, Annie’s side of the story concerned her travels across the world, as opposed to just across the country, like in Fi’s case. So, that showed nothing but promise as to what stories the show could’ve told if it went that direction while still maintaining its themes in this otherwise unexplored territory. Plus, it would’ve put Annie Thelen on par with such characters as Indiana Jones or Kim Possible. Before Kim Possible would’ve made it a thing! Sure, the original proposition for So Weird’s third season would’ve been incredible, but this sounds like an equally incredible third season with tons of potential if that’s where the writers could’ve taken the show.
If you think that’s not a good idea for the show, think about this: Digimon, one of the most popular children’s shows on the air back then, shifted to new characters in-between seasons. Even FX’s Fargo, which I enjoy, did the same thing and achieved incredible results. Maybe, just maybe, So Weird would’ve benefited the same way if the writers so chose.
For what we got, So Weird’s third season was undeniably not as good as its first two seasons. But as a continuing season, it was more confused than bad.
The third season tried to find its footing after dealing with significant crew readjustments the show didn’t prepare for. In so doing, it scrambled to establish the core elements that made the show a hit while imbuing them with details that Disney Channel and the show’s crew hoped would’ve drawn more viewers in. It felt like it tried to understand how to get a handle on the new tonal and narrative directions it was asked to take. Yet, with its paranormal activities and characters, it still held onto the core values that made the show a hit in the first place to help it stand apart from all the other shows on the air back then. Apparently, it tried to mesh them together, but rather than allowing them to lay forth an exciting new chapter of ‘So Weird’, it instead treaded forth with what it had and went all out with it. The result, simply put, was just a feeble mess.
Regardless, So Weird was a fascinating show that pushed boundaries as to what it could squeeze in underneath the label of something like Disney Channel. In doing so, it introduced a slew of engaging characters with intriguing stories that only deepened what it started with. And the paranormal investigations carried nothing but intrigue. At first, it did so because of the generally unusual nature of these discoveries. But then, once the characters became more firmly established, they took on a more exciting route when they had more personal connections with the paranormal subjects than we’d ever thought possible. It accomplished that to remarkable effect with Fi’s story, and after its shakeup, it still carried some semblance of that method as it introduced Annie Thelen into the group next. In a way, So Weird continued to pull some tricks up its sleeve even when it was expected to follow a different map from the one it meant to follow.
Whether you’re lunging in for Fi or even for Annie, get ready for some eye-opening, genuinely engaging explorations of the unknown from one of the least likely of places.
A low B
— Quick spoiler alert unless you’ve seen ‘Gone Fishin”, but the monster lurking within the lake turned out to be a human being who was a former resident of a village that was drowned out when a dam was constructed to form the lake. He was creepy, and it shed light on who the real monsters were in this episode. But how he survived the flooding, plus developing gills on his neck like the humans in ‘Waterworld’, that’s another story.
— During an interview, Alexz Johnson recounted a story where she not only kept a stuffed panther with her after finishing up ‘So Weird”, but she also acted alongside a real-life panther while working on the show. I ought to give Alexz credit for letting Annie act so naturally and realistically when in the presence of a panther, spiritual or otherwise.
— As this is the last season of So Weird, I will miss sharing my thoughts on this show as I go along, just like I did with Andi Mack. So, as a farewell to one of the most breathtaking shows from Disney Channel, here’s a list of my top 20 favorite episodes of the show:
Will 'o the Wisp
"The So Weird Podcast – Episode 59 Jon Cooksey (Head Writer/Showrunner) Interview". The So Weird Podcast, 8 Jan., 2019
"The So Weird Podcast – Episode 71 Alexz Johnson Interview". The So Weird Podcast, 20 Aug., 2019