Eerie Indiana: 30 Years of Weird
His name was Marshall Teller, he used to live in New Jersey across the river from New York. It was polluted and full of crime and he loved it. But his parents wanted a better life for he and his sister so they moved to a wholesome and squeaky clean place. Sure his new hometown may look normal enough but nothing could be further from the truth. Just underneath the surface Eerie Indiana is the center of weirdness for the entire planet. Don’t believe him? He spent three decades proving this truth. In the early 1990’s TV creators Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer joined forces with Joe Dante, the director behind films like Gremlins and The Howling. They were inspired by the success of Twin Peaks to tackle their own show about a small American town plagued by weirdness, but their creation would be something completely different from anything else on television. Premiering on NBC in 1991 Eerie Indiana was about the weirdest town in America and the two boys determined to get to the bottom of it.
As mentioned previously, the series centered on recent transplant Marshall Teller who seems to be the only one who notices the weirdness in his new hometown. Elvis is a notable citizen on his paper route, the old mill on the outskirts of town is haunted by the ghost of a terrible outlaw, Sasquatch frequently rummages through the trash, an alien craft crashed in town, and there is a tupperware that keeps things fresh….forever! He is not alone as his best friend Simon Holmes also sees the strangeness surrounding them and together they set out every week to investigate the paranormal phenomena in Eerie while collecting and cataloguing objects tied to each case.
The tone of quirky horror the show became famous for was set in the very first episode where Marshall and Simon learn the neighborhood housewife selling Forever Ware, is using this kitchen wonder to keep her twin sons children forever. A young Tobey Maguire would pop up in the show as the ghost of a young man who’s love letter Marshall discovers at the World of Stuff, Eerie’s equivalent to a general store. His soul can not rest in peace until Marshall and Simon reunited him with the now aged woman the letter was intended for. The weirdness of Eerie, Indiana even effected Marshall’s family when his dad invents a “smart ATM’ that genuinely forms an friendly attachment to Simon and does not appreciate when it’s affections are not returned. Halfway through the series it was revealed that the owner of the World of Stuff, Mr. Radford was not the real Mr. Radford but an imposter, this allowed Addams Family veteran John Astin to join the cast as the true Mr. Radford. Not only was this move a great salute to one of shows which influenced Eerie Indiana, but also played on the popularity of the current Addams Family films. Creators also introduced the character of Dash X, a mysterious and surly young man who both antagonized and allied with Marshall and Simon. In what became the, incredibly meta, series finale Dash X attempted to take over as the “star of the show” when it was revealed that Eerie Indiana was actually a TV show directed by Joe Dante.
For NBC the uniqueness of Eerie Indiana proved to be a weakness as they were unsure of how to market the series. True the show focused on two young protagonists going on fun and scary adventures, but at the same time Jose Rivera and Karl Scaefer wrote the show for adults. The network aired the show in the Sunday evening slot intended for younger viewers hoping they would be the perfect demographic to boost the ratings. At the same time they encouraged Rivera, Schaefer, and Joe Dante to continue infusing Eerie Indiana with more mature themes and storylines. The confusion over who Eerie Indiana was actually made for led to its downfall. After a single season NBC pulled the plug on this offbeat show airing 18 of the produced 19 episodes.
This is normally where a show would fade into obscurity but something like Eerie Indiana was not anything like other shows. The Disney Channel took a chance on the syndication rights hoping to get a piece of the Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps audiences. Instead of investing the money and resources to create their own show the House of Mouse had an already produced TV series with 19 episodes already in the can. Plus star Omri Katz was already familiar to their viewers thanks to his being in the film Hocus Pocus which was a Disney Channel hit. In 1997, Fox purchased the rights to Eerie Indiana as a companion to Goosebumps on their Fox Kids block and this would be the breakthrough the show needed. After years of floating around the televisionsphere aimlessly Eerie Indiana had a network home where it was finally propelled to mainstream popularity. It became one of the highest rated shows on the Fox Kids block spawning a slew of merchandise including a series of in-canon Young Adult novels. One of these novels The Eerie Triangle even offered a little bit of an explanation as to why so much supernatural and unexplainable phenomena seemed to center around this small town. This is where the problem of there only being 19 episodes reared its head. Hoping to keep the series going, Fox commissioned a sequel/spin-off Eerie Indiana: The Other Dimension. In this show the weirdness of Eerie was seeping through into the Eerie, Indiana of a parallel dimension. Through an interdimensional television (a redubbed scene from the original show), Marshall and Simon gave assistance to Mitchell and Stanley as they continued the work of investigating the paranormal in their hometown. Unfortunately, like the series that spawned it Eerie Indiana: The Other Dimension only lasted a single season.
One would not be out of their depth if they said that the biggest problem Eerie Indiana had was that it was too far ahead of its time premiering in 1991. In the years that have followed shows like: The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Gravity Falls, and many others with noted similarities to the quirky short-lived genre series have become huge hits. Perhaps if Jose Rivera, Karl Schaefer, and Joe Dante would have made this show a couple of years later it too would have found some level of success. That being said the strange balance of being a kid’s show for adults has given Eerie Indiana a cult audience over the three decades since it had its brief TV life. Those who were introduced to it as younger viewers in either its initial run or during syndication still find enjoyment in watching it. Maybe in this era where so many nostalgia-driven properties are getting sequels and reboots, Eerie Indiana will get another look with someone with a fresh perspective they can bring to the center of weirdness. Until then we will have 19 fun and bizarre episodes to enjoy.