Look: cooking shows aren’t my thing. They’ve been a thing for decades, and in the YouTube age, they’re even more of a thing. But they’ve never been my thing, largely because I prefer characters rather than personalities, and narratives that go beyond the literal process of preparing food. I keep my entertainment diet distinct from my literal diet.
That was the case, at least, until a friend of mine recommended The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, which released this month on Netflix. Based, improbably, on its host’s Instagram account, it’s a combination of narrative and instructional entertainment, and it works remarkably well. Not only did it surprise me with its watchability as a cooking show - this thing is a legitimate, actual-factual horror-themed Henson Productions joint, with characters and a story and everything. I love it.
The majority of Curious Creations is a cooking and crafts show, focused on ghoulish, Halloween-ready cakes, cookies, confectionery, and gifts. McConnell makes sweet and savoury monsters and severed body parts; a shortbread Ouija board; shrunken-head cookies; demonic handmade candles; a chicken pot pie in the shape of a fresh chicken corpse; and a fully edible miniature haunted mansion. This is all well and good; the titular Creations are creative and comfortably out of my league.
But wait! The title actually sort of has a double meaning! McConnell is joined every episode by her housemates, all of whom are puppets created by the Jim Henson Company’s adult-oriented Henson Alternative division. Rose (my fave), a road-killed raccoon reanimated by McConnell, is brash, adorable, and horny for everything in sight, with a fork for a hand and a penchant for torture. Rankle, a mummified, cursed, and resurrected ancient Egyptian cat, only wants the worst for everyone, on account of no longer being worshipped as a god. And the hulking wolf-beast Edgar, the newest member of the household, is a total softie, despite his fearsome appearance.
These characters are wonderfully well-designed, but their characterisation is even better. With ghoulishly comic writing and exceptional voice acting, they’re an instantly endearing pack of misanthropes. They constantly insult each other, begrudgingly accept McConnell's affections, and despise outsiders who come into the house. There’s also the implication that McConnell is imagining the entire “TV show” framework: the puppet characters frequently question who she’s talking to, taking it upon themselves to look after their delusional friend.
Curious Creations is all about these characters - and believe it or not, every episode has an actual story, with guest characters and everything. These stories are what drive the creations - McConnell makes things to impress a potential suitor, surprise her friends on special occasions, entertain her ultra-conservative cousin and dead grandmother, and appease her suspicious neighbour. But that only takes up half of each episode, with B-plots based around the animals making up the rest of the time. That neighbour? Gets tied up, ball-gagged, and tortured. When Christine makes a birthday cake in the shape of Rose, the raccoon immediately assumes she’s building a homunculus as a replacement, and plans revenge. The puppet miscreants hatch assassination plans, plot against each other, and generally wreak havoc. Everything has a wonderfully, sometimes shockingly dark sense of humour, and a real sense of Halloween-y fun. There's even a borderline Lovecraftian creature in the basement, always shrouded in shadow and always hungry. It's so freaking good.
McConnell herself isn’t the liveliest host - her line deliveries are often flat, she shows little range of expression, and the jump between on-camera delivery and studio voiceover is jarring. But that’s actually kind of perfect for this show. She’s not quite playing a goth per se, but her quiet delivery plays well against the quirky puppets and stories around her, whether it’s intentional or not. Were McConnell to play things in a more arch manner, the show would be reminiscent of irritating kids’ Halloween specials. As it is, her quietly procedural craft sequences are a nice contrast with the wild shenanigans of her puppet co-stars.
Again: if I hadn’t made it abundantly clear, on the surface this isn’t my bag. But I’m so glad my buddy recommended it to me; its six episodes (I pray for more) brought me more joy than most shows tend to. Consider this article paying that recommendation forward: go check out The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. If you do it in time for Halloween, which it’s perfect for, you might even get some ideas for fun projects. Or hell, maybe it’ll inspire you to celebrate the holiday year-round. McConnell clearly does, and that’s good enough for me.