It was The X-Files before The X-Files.
Well, sort of. When Twin Peaks suddenly vanished at the end of its controversial second and final season in 1991, it left in its wake a void shaped like a weird small town full of mysteries, and Northern Exposure wasn’t filling it. Someone had to step in and claim the mantle that Agent Cooper and the quirky townspeople had left somewhere at ABC.
Later that fall, someone did. Rival network NBC premiered a show about another tiny, unassuming town with a high population of gigantic and bizarre mysteries: Eerie, Indiana, the center of weirdness for the entire planet.
Unlike Twin Peaks, this was a squeaky-clean family show starring underage middle schoolers who definitely would not be finding any dead blonde girls wrapped in plastic, but may hang out with a backwards speaking dwarf if it came down to it. These kids were Marshall Teller and Simon Holmes, and they were a little platonic versions of Mulder and Scully. And, speaking as a ‘90s kid, they were equally as cool – if not cooler – because their characters were just as larger-than-life as their primetime cousins were.
Marshall Teller was a kid from New Jersey whose parents decided to downgrade and move to the small town of Eerie, Indiana to raise their family in a safer environment. Marshall hates the town of Eerie because it’s not the dirty, crowded city he was born in. Statistically speaking, it’s the most normal place in the country. But, as Marshall himself states in the opening narration for the pilot, “statistics lie.” The more time he spends there, the more he realizes that the town has a lot more going on underneath its surface than anyone cares to notice.
To pass the time, Marshall takes up a new hobby that’s more of a quest. He starts investigating every act of weirdness in Eerie to find out why it is the way it is. He claims pieces of evidence from each “case” he looks into, storing each one in a dark locker tucked away in the corner his secret attic room. His new best friend – Simon Holmes, a younger boy who has an unhappy home life and not a lot of friends – joins Marshall in his endless crusade to prove that Eerie is weird as sh*t.
Each episode followed the same plot template: Marshall and Simon check out the latest supernatural Twilight Zone flavored mystery of the week and learn something new about the town or themselves (or both) in the process. Even so, there was a distinct self-awareness Eerie, Indiana had that made it a richer experience than your average two-dimensional programming at the time. Ongoing storylines were hinted at by winks, nods, and easter eggs sprinkled throughout the course of its only season. Each reference or gag was a reminder that Eerie, Indiana had a good memory and a sense of humor about itself to boot.
If you want to get deep, this show could pass as commentary on how the small town was dying alongside the American dream from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The ‘90s were finally here. It was almost the future! But what did we have to show for it? Eerie, Indiana was the pop culture backwash that played with this state of mind, using this lens as a motif to tell timeless stories about growing up with an imagination in a boring capitalist society. With the combined talents of Jose Rivera, Karl Schaefer, and Joe Dante, the show became a nostalgic love letter to adults who grew up in the golden age and a source of inspiration for a new generation of kids growing up in the pre-millennial era.
The cast was incredible. For many of you out there, Omri Katz is forever Max from Hocus Pocus. For the rest of us, he is Marshall Teller until the bitter end. Katz brings such passion to the role, perfectly capturing an air of treehouse mystique, and usually steals any scene he’s in. That’s quite a feat, since he has a lot to compete with. Justin Shenkarow did a bang-up job as his right hand man Simon Teller, a character that slightly changed from a youthful innocent to wisecracking sidekick as the series progressed. Shenkarow never seemed to lose a step no matter what, which added an extra dash of Eerie, Indiana self-awareness to the role.
And the supporting cast? Equally as great, if not better. The Teller family were made up of fantastic ensemble of actors that had more entertaining chemistry than any sitcom family I’ve seen. They could land every gag, no matter what. They always made you crack a smile. Syndi, Marshall’s charmingly ditzy teen sister, was played with a satirical edge by Julie Condra (star of Santa Barbara and wife of Double Dragon’s Mark Dacascos). She has some of the funniest moments in the whole series.
Marshall’s dorky father Edgar is played by prolific character actor Francis Guinan, who definitely has my vote for the perfect TV dad. (Not best ever, though; that honor goes to Keith Mars.) Last but certainly not least is Dawson’s Creek’s Mary-Margaret Humes. She plays Marshall’s gentle yet frisky mother Marilyn, who also has my vote for perfect TV mom, as she wore lots of scrunchies and seemed distinctly chill.
Curiously enough, Eerie, Indiana got paired up with embarrassing family sitcom, The Torkelsons, on Sunday nights. Although Eerie was indeed an all-ages program starring child actors, it wasn’t speaking to the same audience The Torkelsons was. Despite the way its promos looked, Eerie was not written strictly for eight year olds to enjoy. Even though it kept its timeslot for the whole season, it ended as quickly as it began, with its final episode airing in the spring of ‘92. (Even though the very last “new” episode to be seen on television was one that NBC pulled from rotation and shown in a rebroadcast on the Disney Channel in 1993. But we’ll get to that later.) No one really seemed to notice or care, and the world kept spinning on.
Suddenly, 1997 crept up. Kids everywhere were eating up R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and watching the crap out of the TV adaptations on its very own Fox Kids show. Other networks had shown reruns of Eerie, Indiana before (like Disney and Encore’s WAM! channel) so why couldn’t the biggest name in kids programming at the time?
They did. And it turned out to be slightly more successful than expected. A show that was cancelled almost a decade before that no one remembered had finally found an audience. There were now enough ratings to not only justify Eerie, Indiana’s existence, but also expand it into a new horror franchise for the kiddies to gobble up. Hallelujah. But this overdue miracle came with an irony as strange as anything you’d find in the show; making new episodes were out of the question, since Marshall and Simon had long since hit puberty and the rest of the cast were even older. Oh well. How was Hearst Entertainment, the company that produced the show, going to capitalize on this rapidly closing window of opportunity?
A couple different solutions to this problem were devised, and both were pretty clever. The first was to release new adventures of Marshall and Simon in a Goosebumps style series of books published by HarperCollins. The results were mixed at best. Although certain novels were written as direct sequels to classic Eerie episodes like “Foreverware” and “The Losers,” most of the books didn’t add anything significant to the Eerie universe and didn’t match the tone and spirit of the TV series.
The second solution was to film a new reboot series of Eerie on the cheap in Toronto, Canada – again, just like Goosebumps was doing. They called it Eerie Indiana: The Other Dimension. Neither a remake or a reboot, the show was more of a spinoff, almost like those you find in the Star Trek or Stargate franchises (same formula with different characters, basically).
Because the two new main characters were supposed to be versions of Marshall and Simon, the new lead actors were dressed to resemble Marshall and Simon as much as possible without actually being them. Their names were Canadian Marshall and Canadian Simon from seven years into the future. Kiddng. Their actual names were Mitchell Taylor and Stanley Hope. But that’s what I call them in my head. Although this show gave Eerie a new lease on life, it promptly disappeared after its initial run on Fox Kids in 1998 and has since become more of a TV urban legend than anything else.
Ever since its quiet death on a lonely Saturday morning in the late ‘90s, the entire Eerie, Indiana franchise completely disappeared. Sure, the original series has been released on DVD and both shows have been featured on streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix every now and again. But you just don’t hear many people discussing it when they have nostalgic conversations about the sacred TV memories of their youth. (Then again, you don’t really hear much about Tazmania or Shnookums and Meat, either.)
That’s why I think it’s time we bring it back. What do you say? Let’s take a quick road trip to the center of weirdness for the entire planet. I hope you like random Elvis sightings, yeti encounters, and having no smart phones to capture them all on video because we’re going to have to travel back in time about 25 years too. Is that cool? Perfect. Let’s do this…
Get ready, because you can watch Eerie, Indiana on Amazon Prime right now. We’ve got a guide to it all for you.
Eerie, Indiana: Episode Guide
Episode 1: Foreverware
The pilot of the show introduces us to the concept of immortality via tupperware containers, and it’s the stuff of campy nightmares. This is a solid first episode because it quickly establishes the world and tone of the show and endears us to the main cast of characters. Plus, there’s a Goonies-ness to everything. Directed by Joe Dante.
Episode 2: The Retainer
An episode devoted to fat-shaming and talking poodles with french accents. Marshall’s awkward, overweight friend with massive dental headgear is able to tune into the radio frequency on which dogs communicate with each other. Before they know it, they have a canine insurgency on their hands at the local pound, and there’s not a pooper scooper in sight.
Episode 3: ATM With a Heart of Gold
In an episode that uses Max Headroom as a symbol for the economic struggles of the late ’80s, Marshall’s father installs a new high tech ATM that’s so friendly it gives away its money to Simon, the only person in town who will take him seriously. Simon uses the cash to buy new friends which backfires (obviously) and causes Eerie’s economy to plummet in the process.
Episode 4: The Losers
Joe Dante directs again, with heavy Terry Gilliam influence this time. Marshall finds out where all of your missing socks go: The Bureau of Lost, a massive underground government conspiracy to keep the economy going. Clever stuff here. Feels like it should have been an hour.
Episode 5: Scariest Home Videos
A Halloween special that doubles as a bottle episode. The boys are stuck inside the Teller house babysitting Simon’s little brother who gets transported into the TV by chewing on the remote control, swapping places with a mummy from a monster movie. How does this even happen?
Episode 6: Just Say No Fun
Marshall gains an arch nemesis: the new school nurse, who brainwashes kids into having no fun and wearing hipster glasses. He wants to fight the system and wear Groucho Marx glasses instead. A bold statement for individualism, or a silly argument for good, clean fun? You decide.
Episode 7: Heart on a Chain
In one of the most unforgettable episodes of Eerie, Marshall gets involved in a love triangle that ends in tragedy. Dante directs again, dropping visual clues and literary references that add extra depth to a sad and simple story. Definitely ranked in my top three.
Episode 8: Dead Letter
A wild Tobey Maguire appears! Ten years before he started making out with women while hanging upside down, he played a lovesick ghost who asked Marshall and Simon to deliver a letter to his long lost love. Fun scenes in this, even if it follows the template of every Ghost Whisperer episode ever.
Episode 9: Who’s Who?
Even though I’m not sure what the title is referring to, this surrealistic take on Harold and the Purple Crayon featuring a girl with awesome hair ruling the town with her magic pencil is like a Goosebumps episode with better acting. Also, it kinda reminds me of a Soundgarden video.
Episode 10: The Lost Hour
You know how Indiana doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time? Yeah, Marshall hates that. So he sets his watch backward anyway and gets stranded in a lost dimension that no one is allowed in. Except for that militaristic clean up crew. And that strange girl running around. And that magic milk man over there…
Episode 11: Marshall’s Theory of Believability
Eerie’s equivalent of an X-Files episode about Mulder’s conviction for the truth. When a paranormal expert arrives in Eerie claiming a UFO is about to appear, the town is divided. Case in point: Marshall wants to believe, but his father Edgar doesn’t. Things get more heated when phony evidence turns up…
Episode 12: Tornado Days
Marshall pisses off a sentient tornado when he doesn’t go to its annual celebration ceremony like the rest of the town did. Matt Frewer (the actual Max Headroom this time) guest stars as a wild ‘n’ crazy meteorologist that rides tornados for fun, who tries to save Marshall from being swept away.
Episode 13: The Hole in the Head Gang
In this fateful episode, again directed by Dante, we are introduced to two new characters that change the entire tone of the series for the better. One is the new Mr. Radford (played by John Astin), who is technically the old Mr. Radford. (It’s complicated.)
The other is a mysterious grey haired kid (Jason Marsden) who’s squatting in an abandoned mill and doesn’t remember his name. Act now and get a ghost cowboy, cross-dressing hijinx, and a brand new toaster too.
Episode 14: Mr. Chaney
Stephen Root from Office Space (and Newsradio and King of the Hill) is the center of a small town conspiracy meant to feed his werewolf belly. The actual werewolf scenes are poorly executed but still have a quaint low-tech charm to them. The plot, however, is mostly predictable hogwash.
Episode 15: No Brain, No Pain
What does The Knack’s “My Sharona” have to do with fresh post-Cold War intrigue and getting your brain swapped? A lot, actually. And even though this is a standout effort from the entire series, I still don’t quite understand the answer. But I like that.
Episode 16: The Loyal Order of Corn
Eerie’s very own secret lodge is up to no good. Not only do they obsessively worship phallic corn statues (they wear them on their heads for god’s sake), they’re also building an enormous TV powered by crystals that will beam the guy from My Favorite Martian back home. Which also happens to be that grey haired kid’s planet… Geez, what is up with this show and transportation via television?
Episode 17: Zombies in PJs
Reaching for Simpsons’ level subversity, Eerie takes on the three big Cs: capitalism, corporate gluttony, and commercial jingles that get stuck in your head. Mr. Radford makes a Faustian deal with The Donald (played by Deep Space Nine’s Rene Auberjonois), a spooky reference to the devil and the Trump. In order to clear out the World O’Stuff’s merchandise, they brainwash the citizens of Eerie with a marketing campaign that turns them into zombies.
Episode 18: Reality Takes a Holiday
Don’t you wish your life was a TV show? In the true series finale, Marshall gets sucked into an alternate universe where his life is played out on a soundstage on a studio lot. You can’t get more meta than this. The best Eerie, Indiana episode ever, though it’s hard to pick a favorite. Written by Ellen DeGeneres’ brother.
Episode 19: The Broken Record
After “Heart on a Chain”, this is the series’ most heartbreaking episode. To escape his abusive father, Marshall’s friend becomes obsessed with a heavy metal band. This new interest consumes his life, and ends up putting it in danger. Are there evil messages in the band’s music or is it something else?
That’s it, all you corn heads! Leave us a comment if you want to see a guide to Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension sometime in the near future.
In the meantime, why don’t you check out Stephen’s blog series on Eerie, Indiana here? You might want to add him on Twitter @onlywriterever while you’re at it. Just sayin’.