Full disclosure - I know and am friends with some of the folks involved in the production of this show.
There have been sitcoms about every conceivable topic under the sun (even some that aren’t particularly “conceivable” – remember The Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfeiffer?), but to my knowledge, never one set in the vast landscape of horror fandom. With the geek-friendly (and wholly uncreative) Big Bang Theory being one of the top shows on TV for years, it’s fairly plausible to think that a comedy that catered to horror geeks would work as well – especially considering how many horror classics are also comedic (American Werewolf In London, Zombieland, Fright Night etc). But unless I’ve missed something, all horror shows on the air (and there aren’t many) are dramatic in nature: Supernatural, Walking Dead, Grimm – these are hardly the sort of thing you tune in to see if you want a few (intentional) laughs. Luckily, FEARnet has you covered: Holliston, which premieres tonight (April 3rd), is indeed a sitcom for horror fans, but accessible for mainstream audiences as well.
Starring Adam Green (who also created) and Joe Lynch, the show concerns two pals (coincidentally named Adam and Joe) who work at a low-rent cable station making local ads while trying to launch a filmmaking career. Being that this is a sitcom, they also have lady pals: Joe’s girlfriend Laura (Laura Ortiz) and Adam’s ex Corrie (Corri English), as well as a wacky boss. Dee Snider plays the boss, and even though he’s seemingly the only one on the show to get a different name (he plays “Lance Rockett”), he’s pretty much just playing Dee Snider, frontman for Twisted Sister. Oderus from Gwar also pops up as Adam’s imaginary friend, offering insane but sage advice after the crisis in that episode reaches a boiling point.
So you have a pretty typical sitcom group, and together they play out scenes out of any '80s or '90s sitcom (complete with ubiquitous canned laughter), but with the horror element giving it its own unique identity. Genre favorites like Ray Wise and Bill Moseley pop up in bit roles, the movies they reference are real (unlike Friends or whatever, where the titles were always made up), and even some of the plotting follows horror movie trademarks. But the show works best when it’s simply “horror-fying” traditional sitcom plotlines; for example, one episode features the standard “annoying houseguest” subplot, but in this case the guest is Tony “Candyman” Todd. If you’ve never heard of him, it’s still quite amusing, but if you ARE familiar with him and his usual very serious demeanor (Candyman is by far the least “fun” modern franchise killer), it’s even more delightful.
See, unlike Community, they’re not commenting on traditional sitcom plots – they’re embracing them. The laugh track may be obnoxious, but it’s part of the charm, and wouldn’t work as well without it. Nor would the show be as amusing if they were doing horror movie parodies for the entire half hour. For example, the second episode has two storylines; while the girls are dealing with the fact that their new apartment is haunted, Adam and Joe lose valuable work equipment and need to figure out a way to keep from getting fired because of it. Again, you’ve seen this before, but you haven’t seen it with a guy in a rubber monster suit offering advice.
Unfortunately, Holliston only has a six episode run for this first season, and as with many sitcom pilots the first one is a bit rough around the edges – the rhythms aren’t quite there yet, and the excess of back-story to fill in doesn’t leave as much time for jokes as the following three (I’ve only seen the first four; not sure how the final two play out). So it’s a bummer that the show will be wrapping up its initial run just as they’re getting everything in sync. The chemistry among the four leads gets stronger with each subsequent episode, as does the balance between the accessible comedy and the horror-geek shout-outs (a remake of Dr Giggles is mentioned; their hamster’s name is Horace Pinker, etc). You don’t have to be a lifetime subscriber to Fangoria to enjoy the show, but it’ll sure feel nice to be the one getting every joke for a change.
Thus, I hope it takes off, and therefore doesn’t take long for FEARnet to commission a second season, preferably one of thirteen or more episodes. Both it and the Chiller channel can be godsends to horror fans, but they need original programming like this to really survive, because otherwise they’re just showing reruns of Twilight Zone and DTV sequels like Wishmaster 3 all day long. And it’s true, genre fans will probably watch the stations anyway (I’ve talked to genre fans who literally do not watch anything BUT horror related content), but with the theatrical market for smaller/indie horror completely being eradicated, these channels can provide terrific opportunities for both newcomers and vets who have tired of the studio system. In fact, Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) is also working with FEARnet on a series of short films, and Chiller is producing their own original movies now like big brother Syfy does. Attempts at horror-based TV stations have been mounted and killed more than I care to remember over the years (remember Monsters HD?), so the fact that there are now two is actually kind of awesome, especially at a time when cable programming (FX, AMC, etc) gets more buzz and respect than pretty much anything on the networks. Holliston and their other originals could be the gateway to a time when original horror based programming isn’t so rare. Hell, maybe those trolls who watch Walking Dead every week simply just to complain can find something they actually enjoy and leave poor Carl Grimes alone.
Holliston premieres on April 3rd at 10:30 ET; new episodes each Tuesday.