Eerie Indiana was a strange little show that ran for one season from 1991-1992. Starring J.R. Ewing junior Omri Katz, the show was created by Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer with Joe Dante as creative consultant (yes that Dante from Gremlins among other things).
Running for 19 episodes, the series saw young Marshall Teller and his family move to the town of Eerie Indiana where the population was, basically, weird. Bigfoot walks the streets freely, packs of intelligent dogs plot to take over the world and Elvis is alive and well and enjoying retirement in Eerie. As mad and outrageous as this sounds, the series was also quite serious and was compared to a younger X Files in its time. Quite why it failed to run beyond its episodes is again another scenario where a show falls victim to ratings, syndication and god knows what else.
But while it was on, the episodes that did air gripped fans and, if given the chance, could have been something even more special than it was. Think A Town Called Eureka crossed with Monster Squad only madder and you get the idea. This broke it free and literally anything could happen. Rather like the original Star Trek, it gained a cult following which spawned a new spin-off in 1999 called Eerie, Indiana- the Other Dimension.
Joining Marshall on his adventures was his best friend Simon Holmes, played by Justin Shenkarow, who avoids going home due to his parents’ constant arguing. Both he and Marshall believe something is wrong in Eerie, even when the rest of the town believe having Bigfoot walking up the street is normal. In one story they are stuck in a monster movie while a mummy rampages through Simon’s house. The boys were joined by a semi regular cast that included Marshall’s big sister Syndi who wanted to be a reporter and spent a lot of time with the police and fire departments to gain experience. Another intriguing character was Dash X who claimed to have no idea who he was or where he came from, having woken up in Eerie one day. He lives on the streets and is referred to by the townspeople as the Kid with Grey Hair or the Kid with No Name. In subsequent episodes it was revealed he may be an alien as he bears markings on his hands that tie in with an extraterrestrial cult that may be the key to his past.
The leader of the cult had the same markings as Dash but whether or not he really was his father was never told and Dash seemed to return to his home planet. There was no real rhyme or reason to the strange things that happened in Eerie; it gave the writers a blank slate to do stories about anything they liked. In one, Simon befriends an ATM and, in another, he becomes a Stepford like homework loving zombie. Marshall encountered a girl, Melanie, who he fell in love with along with his best friend, Devon. Melanie receives a heart transplant and ends up with Devon and here we have an X-files-like story when she begins to act like her heart donor. Some of this was hard hitting stuff for kids and but it also had fun, especially in the episode Reality takes a Holiday when Marshall finds a TV script and ends in a TV show called Eerie Indiana and is called Omri Katz. Supernatural would do the same story line years later in their sixth season. Both the supernatural nature of the show had a strong human element that kids and adults alike could identify with.
We have the arguing parents, kids that feel alone in the world, abusive parents, the deaths of teenagers, kids rebelling against the conformity of adults and how blind adult life could be that they don’t see abnormal things like monsters and Elvis. It was also a clever allegory on the gulf between the lives of children and the a world of adults where everything is work and stress where kids end up the brunt of this stress further alienating them from their parents. Critics raised the show for its themes and cross generational appeal with one describing it as a cross between the Simpsons and Stephen King. To take it to its extreme, Eerie was a mirror for the way teenagers see the alien world of adults and that old classic that kids can see things adults can’t, such as ghosts and spirits. Who was to say that the Elvis living in Eerie wasn’t a ghost or the reflection of those adults that couldn’t accept he was really dead and fed off the rumours that he had been seen alive and well all over the country?
Joe Dante was also praised for his powerful direction even when the plot may have been flimsy, he put his heart and soul into it to make a mini movie every week. There’s no doubting the production values on screen and the actors gave it their all, especially the kids who were the audience’s way into this weird town. And the show never shied away from referencing other shows and movies. We have a voice from a spider web crying for help (The Fly), Mr Chaney (a werewolf), Boris Karloff in the Mummy, the Terminator and Wizard of Oz. Dante references all the wonderful stuff that may have influenced the creation of Eerie, then it was a job well done and a major surprise when it was cancelled.
Thanks to Fox kids and the Disney Channel which finally aired the lost episode the Broken Record, popularity in the show grew again resulting in the spin off Eerie, Indiana- the other Dimension which saw both shows crossing over in the pilot via a television set, leaving a new boy to carry on the adventures…