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Why Aren't You Watching The Queer Show 'Dead End: Paranormal Park'?

by Alex Mell-Taylor about a month ago in tv / review / pop culture / entertainment / comics
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Demons, possessions, trans representation, and awkward queer love.

Image; Hollywood Reporter

Dead End: Paranormal Park is a young adult supernatural thriller based on the comic DeadEndia by Hamish Steele. It's about a neurodiverse Pakistani woman named Norma Khan (Kody Kavitha) and a trans man named Barney Guttman (Zach Barack) having adventures in the demonic-infested theme park, Phoenix Parks — a cross between Disneyworld and Dollywood. Norma and Barney battle demons, perform exorcisms, and along the way, become more confident versions of themselves — a staple of Young Adult (YA) media.

Yet the thing that sets this show apart is its unapologetic queerness. In an age where queer characters in kids' shows are often revealed subtextually, killed off prematurely, or have rushed introductions, Dead End: Paranormal Park proves that queerness can be perfectly natural in children's television.

If you have been watching kids' programming for a while now, it almost goes without saying that textual queerness has been a historical rarity. Many shows introduce a queer character only for them to be prematurely canceled. The Owl House, for example, received critical acclaim and yet was canceled shortly after its two woman leads, Luz and Amity, had an onscreen kiss. It will now finish off with a very condensed final, third season.

In the past, there have been ways to get around this problem. Some queer-coded shows will have textually queer side characters (e.g., "here are my two dads or moms," or a character with a queer pin) but not have much besides that. Others will subtextually code their leads as queer (e.g., blushing or acting flustered around a crush), but for actual confessions of love to only make it in the final season or even the final episode. The Legend of Kora, for example, had its two women leads holding hands in the final frame of the last episode (with creators having to confirm their queerness offscreen). Princess Bubblegum and Marceline of Adventure Time didn't get their kiss until the finale. Amphibia introduced not one but two rushed queer relationships in the final season, one being in the very last episode.

This hesitancy makes sense because creators have often had to battle with queerphobic producers and owners to get their queer characters aired. Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch, for example, has gone on the record saying that Disney forbade him from having a queer character. Series creator Rebecca Sugar has likewise mentioned having to fight producers for a wedding scene in Steven Universe between two woman characters, saying in a Reuters interview:

“We are held to standards of extremely bigoted countries. It took several years of fighting internally to get the wedding to happen. There are people who see what we’re doing as insidious and … they’re ignorant. So much bigotry is based on the idea that (LGBT+ content) is something inherently adult, which is entirely false.”

Hence, why the wedding scene happened at the end of the show's run. If you know that your show is ending anyway, why not load up on all the themes you wanted to be in there in the first place? It's not like you can get canceled. And so, in the past, many shows started out subtextually queer, or queer on the periphery, only for there to be a sudden series of confessions in the show's mad dash to the finish line.

Yet it seems like the industry is changing, at least in part. Dead End: Paranormal Park is standing on the shoulders of these creators, who have fought for more explicit representation, and as a result, it is queer as all hell from the very getgo. From the undead Pauline Phoenix (played by drag queen Clinton Leupp) to the demonic Zagan (played by Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, of Pose fame), many of these characters portray queer people and are voiced by queer actors.

As I stated earlier, protagonist Barney Guttman is textually coded as a trans man (and played by a trans person too). A central plot point involves him budding heads with his parents for not sticking up for him after dinner with his transphobic grandmother. He starts staying at Phoenix Park because he doesn't feel safe at home, and that emotional baggage is a primary tension on the show.

Barney is not just trans, but a gay man. He has a crush on hunk Logan "Logs" Nguyen (Kenny Tran), and a minor tension in the first season is the question of whether or not they will get together. Barney even sings a bop about how much he wants to date Logs in the song Just Some Guy. "It's not like I sit around just obsessing about his deep brown eyes," Barney belts wistfully.

Generally, I was pleasantly surprised by the representation on this show, and not just with queerness. While we don't know Norma's sexuality — though based on a mild flirtation, it's not unreasonable to assume that she might be a member of the family — we do know she is on the spectrum. Pauline Phoenix is one of the things Norma had obsessed over, a fact that comes to a head beautifully in the song My Frankenstein (side note: the musical episode is just amazing).

Norma also has intense anxiety, which is covered in depth in the episode Trust Me, where the gang goes to the beach and bumps into a fear demon. This conceit allows us to see Norma's perspective of the world — a rare thing since anxiety is usually shown unempathetically on television as a negative trait.

All in all, it was nice to get lost in a world where queer and neurodiverse people are front and center. As someone with both of these identities, I can't tell you how nice it was to see a tiny fraction of myself on the screen.

I think there are a lot of good moments here, and we need content like this now more than ever. We are currently undergoing a moral panic where the mere portrayal of queerness is being depicted as evil. Conservatives have labeled queer people pedophiles and groomers for simply being themselves.

In these dark times, it is nice to see a positive piece of queer representation that does not flinch from celebrating human difference. Barney is an out and proud trans man. Norma is a neurodiverse, brown woman who is strong and fearless. Children deserve to see characters like this — characters like them — reflected on the screen.

Dead End: Paranormal Park may not change the world, but it's a step in the right direction, and I think you and your kids should see it.

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About the author

Alex Mell-Taylor

I write long-form pieces on timely themes inside entertainment, pop culture, video games, gender, sexuality, race and politics. My writing currently reaches a growing audience of over 10,000 people every month across various publications.

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