Synopsis: Encounters with mermaids, fallen angels, and other strange beasts as they drive broken people to desperate acts in Monsterland, an anthology series based on the collection of stories from Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters.
Review: This review contains spoilers.
I spent eight hours watching Monsterland. I want five of those hours back. I’m giving this show a six out of 10 on the Story score. The cast and crew earned a base score of three for generally elevating the material. Then, I’m adding a point each for the three tales I genuinely enjoyed.
Allegory is built on a paradox. Either people get the social commentary — rendering it redundant — or they don’t — rendering it rhetorical furniture in a fictional haunted house that they ignore. Because of the pandemic, people either have time in lockdown to contemplate the societal problems that have been brought to the surface, or they’re essential workers who don’t have time in lockdown to contemplate anything because they’re too busy living a waking nightmare. Either way, Monsterland was a poorly timed effort conceived in good faith that largely needed to deliver something else to viewers in these fraught times.
The dumpster fire that is 2020 requires Halloween fare that balances commentary with Creature Feature so that Monsterland is as much ‘monster” as “land.” That way, those who don’t need or want the allegory can escape into stories that allow us to consider literal otherworldly beings.
Also, the producers of Monsterland unevenly capitalized on two schools in gothic thought. First, there’s the depressive goth outlook in which black is the absence of all color. Second, there’s the happy goth outlook in which black is the presence of all colors mixed together. Five of the stories represent the former and three the latter. I’ll be highlighting those three in this review.
“Plainfield, Illinois” was a love story that tackled the stress of mental illness and the aftermath of suicide. It was unflinching in it’s depiction of both. In that way allegorical criteria were met. However, we also got a marvelously literal revenant who was able to help her wife process her loss and grasp hope at the end.
“Palacios, Texas” gave viewers an update of Splash for these troubled times. The mermaid was vicious and needed to be in the face of a gargantuan oil spill. She scored a small victory, knowing her long-term survival odds were bleak.
“Newark, New Jersey” was the story of how an angel allowed a couple teetering on the brink to say goodbye to their daughter. I loved the world-building in this story and how thoroughly different the angels were.
The entire cast was excellent, but I want to highlight the ones who played the most overt creatures in these uneven Creature Features. Taylor Schilling played the revenant in “Plainfield, Illinois.” Adria Arjona played the mermaid in “Palacios, Texas.” Both women gave layered physical and emotional performances. I could both internalize their pain and escape the allegory by imagining parallel universes in which the events literally played out.
I’ll content myself with the three episodes I enjoyed. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck next review,
You can stream all eight episodes of Monsterland on Hulu.