90′s Kid Horror TV Spotlight: SO WEIRD

(Author’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series where BJ Colangelo takes a trip down memory lane and talks about the kid friendly horror TV shows from the 1990s/early 2000s that helped shape her into the horror loving fangirl she is today.)

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Known for being the most tame and family friendly of all of the kid’s channels, The Disney Channel knew they had to compete with the other stations and show some sort of creepy kid’s show to keep the channel “hip” and entertaining.  SO WEIRD was a television series shot in Vancouver, British Columbia that aired on the Disney Channel as a midseason replacement from January 18, 1999 to September 28, 2001. In season one and season two, the series centered around teenage girl Fiona Phillips (Cara DeLizia) who toured with her brother, a friend, and her rock star mom Mackenzie Phillips (“pre-I boned my dad” Molly Phillips), encountering paranormal activity along the way.  Fiona Phillips (commonly referred to as “Fi”) and her family encountered ghosts, aliens, haunted objects, urban legends, mythical creatures, and even real-life mysteries.  SO WEIRD had somewhat of an interactive aspect within the show as the lead character had a blog, one that could even be accessed online by viewers at home.  The show didn’t gain nearly as much popularity as competing shows like ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK or GOOSEBUMPS, but SO WEIRD played a major part in my childhood.  A young brunette girl fascinated by the paranormal and actively writing on her laptop?  No wonder I ended up the way I did.  The show had three seasons but Fi Phillips was only present for two of them. She was replaced by Alexz Johnson as “Annie Thelen” on Season 3 because Disney wanted the show to take a lighter tone to appeal to younger audiences.  Unfortunately for Disney, fans didn’t like this new and lighter tone and the show’s fate was met with Disney’s former “maximum 65 episode policy.”

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When the show was at it’s peak, it was very comparable to being an X-FILES for kids.  There were monsters that would make frequent appearances throughout the series like the Bricriu, a creature based in Irish folklore that knew of the Will o’ the Wisps that may have killed her father.  Fiona Phillips was a dynamic female protagonist and the show always left a message that hope exists no matter how weird things in life can become.  Considering the show was largely centered around Fi’s Mom’s rock touring, the show also had some really good original music.  My personal favorite was the ballad “Rebecca” written about the mother’s former best friend that seemingly disappeared.  As it turns out, the girl disappeared because she’s part of a family of immortal humans that age 1 year for every 100.  Instead of being terrifying, it was extremely sad to hear the stories of this poor girl who has watched everyone she loves die while she remains exactly the same.

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Unlike the ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK or GOOSEBUMPS storytelling shows, SO WEIRD always had one foot based in reality which for younger viewers, added a level of fear that campfire stories couldn’t compete with.  These monsters may not have had scary faces, but their origins and the strength of the writing was scarier than any creature design.  In the film’s first episode, Fiona’s mother Molly prepares to perform at a Chicago waterfront while Fi investigates the drowning death of a boy on the SS Eastland that still haunts the building where his body was brought following the disaster, present-day Harpo Productions (Oprah’s production company).  As a child of Chicago, the SS Eastland is something taught in history classes and Harpo Productions is a location I had passed numerous times.  To see a character communicating with ghosts from the tragedy and witnessing a re-enactment of the tragedy was really intense, and I was immediately hooked and terrified.  A majority of the stories and monsters shown were based in folklore or mythology, so unlike the other kid’s TV shows that I knew were fake, SO WEIRD came packed with centuries of stories to go along with the monsters, making everything feel like it were really happening.  There was a boy in my 4th grade class who was always being punished for being destructive although he swore he wasn’t doing anything.  A few weeks later, I saw an episode of SO WEIRD where a boy had the same problem, and it turned out he had conjured up a Tulpa.  Needless to say, I avoided the kid in my class like the plague.  There was an episode where everyone in a town could read minds and it was because they had eaten wheat from a crop circle.  Immediately, I assumed everyone could read my mind because we had a local corn maze for Halloween.  Hell, there was an episode where Fiona used SimCity to help a girl in a coma who’s soul was shocked into the internet after some electrical glitches at the hospital.  It was all so convincing that I couldn’t get enough of it.

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Perhaps most importantly, was the characterization of Fiona Phillips.  While many shows for adolescent girls talked about the importance of finding dates for school dances or looking pretty, Fiona was constantly encouraging education, exploration, trusting your instincts, standing up for yourself even if you’re standing alone, and never taking “No” for an answer.  Fi Phillips was a clever, driven, and independent spirit that inspired many girls to remain true to themselves.  If anything, that message alone was worth every episode.  It may have been short lived, but SO WEIRD played a major role in the lives of many horror loving 90s kids, especially girls.  Rock on, Fi Phillips.

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