The Disney Channel is arguably the most accessible of the stations geared towards children, but has always followed the trends and fads that boosted the ratings of all of their competitors. After the successes of shows like GOOSEBUMPS, EERIE, INDIANA, and ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, The Disney Channel put aside the more traditional fare of magical musicals to give their version of creepy entertainment for children.
Shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, The Disney Channel premiered SO WEIRD in January of 1999. The series centered around Fiona Phillips (Cara DeLizia), as she and her family explored the country alongside her rockstar mom, Mackenzie (Molly Phillips), on her nationwide tour. Throughout the tour, the family begins experiencing paranormal and supernatural activities around the way. “Fi” and her family encounter ghosts, aliens, haunted objects, mythical creatures, urban legends, and even real-life tragedies like the unsettled spirits from “The Great Chicago Fire.” Fi kept a blog (that fans of the show could access at home) documenting her experiences on tour, and maintained a supernatural “wikipedia” of sorts for those interested in the phenomena showcased in each episode.
While GOOSEBUMPS and ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? stayed on the air for years, SO WEIRD fell victim to The Disney Channel’s old “65 episode maximum” rule and disappeared after only three seasons. The former shows were an anthology of storytelling, but SO WEIRD felt more like a kid’s version of THE X-FILES. Monsters would make appearances in multiple episodes to keep the mythos of the world consistent, and most of the horror stories were based in folklore or mythology. Sure, Slappy the Dummy in GOOSEBUMPS is a bonafide icon, but the SO WEIRD episode featuring a “Tulpa” or the introduction to Roswell, New Mexico was enough to stir very, very real nightmares.
Much like the recent hit, THE FINAL GIRLS, Fiona Phillips’ experiences with horror were merely a vehicle to help her to learn to come to terms with the loss of her father. Her constant interactions with the supernatural only piqued her interest to try and contact her dead father. Fi is the only one in her family too young to remember her father, but their shared interest in the supernatural brings the two together even after he’s left the mortal plane. SO WEIRD wasn’t afraid to utilize elements of horror to discuss the real horrors we deal with every single day. Being trapped in virtual reality acted as a metaphor for the brain activity for those in a coma, possession acted as a parallel to alcoholism, and rambunctious ghosts as an explanation for uncontrollable children.
SO WEIRD was once on YouTube in its entirety, but the house of mouse quickly pulled that for copyright infringement. Unlike Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network that embrace their older shows, Disney tends to keep their properties locked up in the infamous vault. With the exception of bootleggers at horror conventions, SO WEIRD has become pretty difficult to track down. But for the small audience that was the right age at just the right time, it’s a show we cherish and wax nostalgic over. Maybe someday we’ll get lucky and Disney will finally let the massively underappreciated show out of the vault, but until then, we’ll only have the nightmare inducing memories of one of the best children’s horror shows of all time.
*All Photos: SO WEIRD (1999) The Disney Channel