Someone asked me to review the third season of Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark remake, entitled Ghost Island, to see if one of the kids is trans. It's Nickelodeon, so probably not, but I have an hour to kill, and maybe some of the kids are old enough to be hunkoids. I watched Episode 1.
First Story: The Tale of Room 13. Isn't there supposed to be a frame story with the Midnight Society gathering?
Scene 1: In 1983, a young mother, her preteen daughter, and a baby try to check into the Veil Hotel. The desk clerk says: "Sorry, we're all booked, except for Room 13, and we don't rent that one out." Because it's evil and eats people. "But you're the only hotel on the island, and it's dark and rainy. What are we supposed to do?" Make your reservations in advance, like everybody else in the world?
When the desk clerk leaves, Mom sends her daughter, who has the bizarre early 20th century girls' book name Betty Anne - to steal the key to Room 13!
It's a lovely old-fashioned suite. While Mom settles down to take a bath -- during a thunderstorm? -- Betty Anne's electronic spelling game gives her the words "Water" and "Danger." Then she vanishes! The baby vanishes, too, and a disembodied voice tells Mom to "Run!" But it's too late: A ghostly figure jumps out of the mirror and grabs her.
Scene 2: Present day suburbia, but with lots more kids than one generally sees playing outside. Kayla, a young-teen girl (actress Telci Huynh is 16), is twirling in her room, picking up random objects and tossing them into a suitcase. She accidentally knocks over some photos of her hugging another girl, and feels sad. Then her swishy friend emerges from the closet wearing some of her clothes, and asks how he looks. She rates him a 9. Ok, there's a gay kid, or at least a "High School Musical"-style gay-vague kid.
"Ugh, why are you bringing books to a tropical resort?" he complains. He sees the photos of Kayla and the Other Girl, and gets upset, but puts on a brave front. I'm guessing a recently-deceased sister.
Kayla wonders if she should stay home. Swishy friend -- Leo (Luca Padovan) -- admits that it won't be easy (to go to a resort?), but she has to try.
A car honks -- it's time to go. Switch to Kayla, Leo, Giggly Girl, Surly Boy, and their Mom frolicking on a boat, heading for the resort. This must be a flashback. Mom is much older than the girl in the photograph, so obviously Giggly Girl is the recently-deceased one. She must have died on the island, which is why Kayla is reluctant to go back.
Scene 3: The arrive at the Veil Hotel from Scene 1, a rather industrial-looking two-story structure. Is this still a flashback? Exuding enthusiasm, they talk about the unsolved disappearances at the hotel. Mom introduces her boyfriend, Robbie (Jason Cao), which disturbs Surly Boy for some reason. "How long has this been going on?" he demands. He must be upset because Mom is dating another guy soon after her divorce.
Mom gives them their room assignment: the four kids will share a suite, and she will be staying at Robbie's bungalow for some...um, cuddling.
Scene 4: They ask the desk clerk, Stanley, if the hotel is really haunted. "Yes. The hotel is filled with tortured souls like me." "Are you a ghost?" No, working in the service sector.
He escorts them to their suite -- Room 14. Kayla looks around. "Where's Room 13, where everyone disappears?" "We don't have a Room 13. Superstitious guests refuse to stay in it, so we number from 12 to 14."
Their suite is nothing like Room 13 from 1983: open, airy, with giant windows looking out onto the beach. Shawn Mendes stayed there! They all squeal and hug. Leo is wearing pink nail polish, but everyone uses he/him pronouns, so I'm identifying him as a swishy gay kid, not a trans girl. I just hope they hired an actual feminine-presenting actor not a straight guy playing up the stereotypes.
Scene 5: While everyone is lounging around and calling their mothers, Kayla explores the suite -- and finds drops of blood on the sink! She turns the thermostat down to 76, and a disembodied voice says "Help me! I'm cold." So put on a ghost-sweater.
Scene 6: At the beach, Leo and Surly Boy argue about the DC Comics Infinite Earths, while Kayla looks depressed. She pulls out a picture of the five of them. The Giggly Girl (don't they give any of these people names?) pops up out of nowhere and says "I miss her too." So the flashback is over, and Mom is the dead one. They could indicate these time jumps better.
Her deathbed wish was to have the four friends return to the island, for some reason.
Scene 7: Kayla reminisces that Bella was always the most fun, Another flashback, except this girl is the same age as Kayla. They're hiding under the covers with flashlights, discussing whether or not ghosts are real. So Same-Age Bella is the dead one, and Mom is still alive, off "cuddling" with Robbie. Which of the earlier scenes was a flashback?
Kayla awakens in the middle of the night (it's boys in one bed, girls in the other) and hears a disembodied "Help me!" Get your own sweater! It's coming from next door -- Room 13! Leo heard a baby crying from the same room. Desk clerk Stanley doesn't believe them, of course: he demonstrates that the room next door is a linen closet!
Scene 8: The four friends hit the beach. Surly Boy finally gets a name -- Ferris, (Chance Hurstfield, who played a gay kid on A Million Little Things). He watches Robbie twirling Mom around, and wonders "what she sees in that guy!" Um -- he's handsome and muscular?
Leo: "Don't let it bother you. You're handsome, too" Surly: "Do you think I have a chance with Jules?" Wait -- that's his mother! I guess she could be someone's older sister. Actress Sofia Reyes is 26.
They play Never Have I Ever -- shoplifted, cut my own bangs, etc. Surly Boy's never: "Never have I ever been to outer space," whereupon Giggly Girl responds "No one has done that." People have been going to outer space since 1961. The first moon landing was in 1969. Does this all take place in the 1950s?
They see a hot guy walking nearby. Leo calls "dibs" but Giggly Girl wants him, too. They decide that Kayla, a neutral party, should go invite him over, but she's too shy, so Leo does it. His name is Max (Connor Sherry, top photo).
Scene 9: Night, around a campfire. Surly Boy asks Max to pass the marshmallows, and is surprised when he throws like a linebacker. But he's not impressed, he's jealous: another guy who gets more action!
Although they've been eating s'mores for a long time, Max is just getting around to asking the usual questions: "Where are you guys from?" Derby, Connecticut. He's a townie, working at the hotel for the summer.
"Wow, that must be, like so fun!" I guess, if you like picking up used towels and cleaning...um...residue-stained sheets.
"Why is it called Ghost Island?" "Because it's dead in the off-season. And also because of the ghosts." Har-har. "Do you want to hear the story of Room 13? Over the years, everyone who stays there vanishes without a trace."
Scene 10: Max does the classic Are You Afraid of the Dark opening: "I submit for your approval...". We fade out to the year 1996, Christmastime, with a teenage boy -- Porter, the front desk clerk -- twirling around the hotel lobby. The phone rings: it's Room 13. A voice says "I'm cold!" and then "Let me out!" Nobody is staying in Room 13, but Porter figures that a guest stumbled in by accident, and can't figure out how to unlock the door.
On the way to check it out, he runs into coworker Ricky (Jordan Lister), and asks him out on a date -- to see the new horror movie Scream. Maybe he'll get scared and throw himself into your arms. Ricky agrees. "I'll meet you in the lobby in a few minutes."
Porter goes into the room. The water is running in the bathtub, and a mysterious figure swishes by. The door slams shut -- he's locked in, forever!
Scene 11: The gang dislikes the story. There's no climax, no denouement, no hand-from-grave teaser! So Max adds a scene where Porter tries to use the phone, but it's dead. The handle comes off the door. The window won't open. And a ghostly form appears from the mirror and grabs him. Max wouldn't know any of this, but it's necessary for good storytelling.
Now everyone approves -- except for Surly Boy, of course. Kayla and Leo tell him about the sounds they heard from the room next door -- is Room 13 hidden behind a linen closet? Max avers that it is, and offers to take them there.
Scene 12: In the morning, while Giggly Girl and Leo distract Stanley the Front Desk Clerk, Max steals the key to Room 13.
Inside, it's always 10: 13 pm, during a thunderstorm, with a children's story playing on the radio that can't be turned off. Max starts to freak out. They agree that it's time to go, but then the door slams shut, and won't open. Their cell phones are dead. The bathtub fills with water, just like in Max's story.
As they hug and whimper, a mysterious figure pushes out of the mirror. Max is pulled toward it -- but instead of grabbing him, it screams and lets them all go! Whew! I definitely thought they were goners.
Spoiler Alert: They rush out into the hallway. Max breaks from the group, runs out of the hotel, and stops to sit on the curb. There's something in his pocket: two tickets to Scream. Suddenly he remembers that he's Porter, the bellhop who vanished in 1996! He's dead!
This episode is 1 1/2 hours long. I don't usually do scene-by-scenes for episodes that run as long as movies, so I'll stop here.
Beefcake: Robbie twirling Mom/Older Sister. There are some shirtless guys at the resort. Surly Boy takes his shirt off in the second part.
Heterosexism: The girls are all into boys. Surly Boy is constantly upset because other guys are hotter, and therefore more likely to get laid.
Gay Characters: Leo, obviously, and maybe Max/Porter. It's possible to ask a friend to a movie, but on tv that's usually a trope for a romantic date. And in the second part, we discover that Ricky was so distraught over his friend's disappearance that he became a paranormal investigator.
Update: Max is gay. The only romance in the main story is between Max and Leo.
My Grade: B