If there’s one thing to note about Gen- Z characters created by non-Gen Z writers, it’s that they usually suck. From the inaccurate and overused slang in “Ginny and Georgia” to the cheesy, taken-too-seriously lines in “On My Block” to the entirety of “Riverdale,” the costs of having older writers attempt dialogue between teenage characters often far outweigh the benefits. However, one of Disney+’s most recent additions just might be the first show I’ve seen in a while to do the younger generations justice.
From “Saved by the Bell” to “Gilmore Girls” to “Criminal Minds,” we’ve seen many revivals in the TV world in the last few years — but we’ve seen very few quite like “Goosebumps.” With episode titles alluding to the classic R.L. Stine novels and a powerful combination of comedic and creepy, “Goosebumps” stays in touch with its iconic roots while putting its own spin on the beloved stories via its accurate and, frankly, hilarious Gen Z characters.
When the first episode of “Goosebumps” featured a girl posting a video announcing her Halloween party to the whole school, I have to admit I was skeptical. I’ve watched enough TV and lived with enough common sense to know that using the internet to invite an entire school to a house party is a ridiculous myth only found on the small screen. But when this video became a storytelling vehicle to introduce a plotline surrounding internet negativity, I began to regain some faith — Gen Z has many strengths, but not hopping on the internet and posting the meanest comments known to humankind isn’t exactly one of them. And this isn’t where “Goosebumps’ ” accurate portrayal of Gen Z characters ends. The show’s writing somehow pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of writing the younger generation’s humor in a way that doesn’t generally come across as, for lack of a better word, cringey. I mean, hearing a Gen Z character refer to a Halloween costume with a mask as “pandemic realness” and a “throwback” definitely made me laugh out loud. And while many shows attempt this type of dry-yet-dramatic humor, “Goosebumps” might just be the first time I’ve seen it actually pulled off.
Another unique quality that “Goosebumps” brings to the table is its unusual storytelling format. The show begins from the perspective of a varsity football player, taking us through his terrifying encounter with a haunted camera (“Say Cheese and Die,” for those familiar with the books). But by the second episode, we are taken through an entirely different perspective from a character only featured for a minute or so in the first episode. The third installment tells a time loop-esque story from the perspective of the football player’s best friend, and the show continues on, featuring differing perspectives from a variety of characters. “Goosebumps’ ” choice not to focus on one specific main character, and to instead share the wealth among the entire main cast not only creates a well-rounded and complex group of leads but adds to the horror element of the show as well. In this story, terror isn’t just one person’s problem — no one is ever truly safe.
“Goosebumps” also pulls off another aspect of storytelling I rarely see done well, or even attempted — a refusal to fall into comfortable teen-media stereotypes. The only other show I can think of that chooses to blur the social lines and not fall inside of these harsh, predetermined boundaries is “Teen Wolf,” with its hyper-feminine mathematical genius Lydia Martin (Holland Roden, “Criminal Minds”), and its numerous characters falling outside of heteronormative roles. In a similar fashion, “Goosebumps” features a cast of characters that includes complex women, Queer characters whose identities are separate from their sexualities and an accurate reflection of the demographics you’d find in a typical high school class. The series also features the close friendship of the aforementioned varsity football player and his Queer best friend and the first scene I’ve ever seen where a “girl best friend” stands up to her “guy best friend” in defense of his “jealous” girlfriend.
The TV world has not always been accurate or generous in its depiction of Gen Z characters. But maybe “Goosebumps” could be the start of a shift, so that we no longer have to hear “all good, gang gang” come out of an upper-middle-class teenage girl’s mouth ever again. With its allusions to the series that started it all, its refusal to submit to expected stereotypes and its fresh, funny perspective on Gen-Z humor, “Goosebumps” is your perfect Halloween watch.
Daily Arts Writer Olivia Tarling can be reached at email@example.com.