I’m not a subscriber to Hulu but my mom is, and she’s often on the hunt for horror series’, as someone whose own love for horror dwarfs my own. For the last year, she’s been insisting that I check out a show called “Freakish,” a show that she describes as a “great zombie show” and one I’d particularly love, since I tend to have a real weak spot for shows about zombies and the apocalypse. Hell, I am a regular viewer of “Fear the Walking Dead,” “The Walking Dead,” and even love “Dead Set,” so “Freakish” is kind of up my alley.
The best way to describe “Freakish” is less in premise and more as a pitch. Imagine “The Breakfast Club,” meets “The Walking Dead,” with a hint of “28 Days Later” and some “The Mist” thrown in for good measure. “Freakish” is set in a small town where a group of high school students find themselves at their school one late afternoon. They end up stuck in their school for various reasons, including hero Grover, who pleads with the school’s coach to be allowed in detention so he can be around his big school crush Violet.
While the remnants of Kent High school’s class body gather after school, the local chemical plant experiences a sudden explosion that sends a shockwave through town. The result of the explosion is a spread of green and yellow toxic gas that begins to spread around the town in an instant. Despite being warned not to go out in to the toxic air, students begin scattering, running in to the fall out to find their family members, all of whom live around the plant, or work in the plant.
Those that are wise enough to stay in the school decide to wait in the classes for word from authorities on what to do next. Much to their horror, the students that fled the school return deathly ill and warning of the danger of the gas. As all of the students retreat in to the school bunker waiting for help from local authorities, shit hits the fan almost immediately as the ill students die from the toxic gas and re-emerge as mutated flesh eating zombies. Before long the students have to turn their school in to a fortress to protect themselves from the ravenous flesh eating mutants, all the while trying to keep from turning on one another.
“Freakish” is altogether a campy horror show but a damn fun one filled with a ton of very in vogue young actors and actresses that definitely will appeal to modern audiences. “Freakish” aims for the digital audience and they do a good job assembling a range of Canadian actors, former Disney and Nickelodeon actors, and even Youtube stars. There’s Amanda Steele, Chachi Gonzales, and Liza Koshy, the latter of whom is very good as alpha female and tough survivor Violet. Other talented cast members include “Degrassi” (Little known fact about me: I’m a big fan of the contemporary reboot of the Canadian drama “Degrassi”) alum Aislinn Paul who is just excellent. As well, there’s Saxon Sharbino, Ryan McCartan, and former Disney performers Leo Howard and Adam Hicks.
The latter two are especially good as average students turned survivors forced to make really hard decisions over the course of the series’ two seasons. For good measure, Chad Coleman from “The Walking Dead” even appears as the school’s gruff football coach. “Freakish” is exactly what you’d expect with these teenagers forced in to learning how to survive and deal with concepts like cabin fever, delirium, and paranoia. All the while they must overcome the issues they dealt with before the toxic fall out destroyed their lives. There are a lot of scenes of battling with flesh eating mutants and the show even puts their characters through the wringer time and time again.
One scene finds the school bunker crowded with the freaks, and the group has to find a way to sneak inside and grab the only existing gas masks that the school has in their possession. Another scenario finds the group having to ration their water when the pipes in the school are shut off inexplicably. All the while there is always the threat of one of our characters being attacked by a freak by surprise. “Freakish” drops our survivors right in the middle of a very public place in their town, thus many of the freaks begin finding ways to sneak in to the school. Some survivors even fled in to the confines of the class without the existing characters realizing, forcing them in to standing on guard every single time they turn a corner.
The one caveat is that there are so many goofy plot elements and weird moments that I promise will inspire a laugh or two. There’s a scene played seriously where a character is impaled by a skateboard, and then their body is stuffed in to a locker. Jake Busey makes an appearance as a knife throwing survivor with a penchant for hitting on underage girls, and he’s about as over the top as always.
There are also a lot of questions you’ll be asking like: why do the characters stay on the same floor bickering with one another, when they’re in a public school that’s likely garnering five whole floors with wings and a large gymnasium or two? Do all public schools have underground bunkers? Is there not a nurses station nearby? And why would someone seek to invade and take over a public school when they could easily topple a police station, hospital, or super market filled with food and supplies?
That said, “Freakish” gets by on a lot of charming tension, fascinating characters, and genuinely strong performances by its young cast. The arc of Adam Hicks’ character Diesel who goes from a violent school bully to a genuinely clever club wielding warrior in the vein of Daryl Dixon is exciting. Leo Howard is also right at home committing a lot of his experience in martial arts to great scenes where he’s forced to flee from, and charge in to flesh eating zombies to protect his friends. The cast is constantly rotating, with people dying suddenly, and new mysterious allies being injected that add to the spice and doldrums of the single setting.
Saxon Sharbino and Ryan McCartan are introduced during season two as a pair of twins who seem to get a kick out of manipulating people and talking their way out of predicaments. Meanwhile the series further develops its concept from a narrative about the zombie apocalypse in to a wider epic story about government facilities, genetic testing, the evolution of the freaks, and the often ambiguous toxic gas.
With the fate of the series up in the air, I hope we get a season three next year. I definitely intend to return since season two’s finale ends with three big cliffhangers. If you’re looking for an alternative to “The Walking Dead,” and can tolerate the camp and thick melodrama and accept it as a part of the series, then you can might enjoy “Freakish.” It’s a fun, exciting, and gory meshing of genres filled with flesh eating zombies and competent character evolution.
Both seasons are now available on Hulu.