The Cat King Cometh

Dead Boy Detectives: Season 1

When last we checked in on the Dead Boys, as part of the NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). series, Dead Boy Detectives, they were stuck in Port Townsend, WA, after solving the case of a missing girl. Now, thanks to the power of Netflix’s binge model, we get to see all the rest of the episodes in a quick span of time and actually review the whole show all at once, a little over a week after it came out. I could have had this review out faster, but I was actually enjoying watching the show one episode per day and letting it brew. Binging is great, but a little respite between episodes makes each adventure feel a little more solid, a touch more meaningful.

Honestly, with the weird and spastic way that Netflix is releaseing its shows – sometimes in two halves, sometimes in three parts, sometimes all at once – I’m never sure how much of a show I’m going to get to watch when it debuts on the streamer. While many of us lamented week-to-week viewing when Netflix first brought out its binge model, I have to admit that week-to-week has some advantages. It’s far easier for me to cut a chunk of time out of my day for an episode of a show than it is to try and cram in a whole binge, and I can sense that it’s daunting to see an entire season of episodes just waiting for me, making it feel like work to get through it all.

To be clear, Dead Boy Detectives never felt like work. It’s a great show and probably one of the first Netflix originals I’ve actually legitimately enjoyed since the first season of The Witcher. While I might worry about if Dead Boy Detectives is going to fall off the same way The Witcher did, I don’t think I have to worry. The show is good, but it didn’t break out the way The Witcher did, leading the executives to meddle and “dumb down” the show to make it more palatable to the masses. Dead Boy Detectives is more likely to get canceled than fucked with, which would make me sad, but one great season of television on its own is better than a series that starts out strong and then completely falls apart after a set of episodes (see also: Game of Thrones).

The trick with Dead Boy Detectives is that it’s a good episodic show. It does have some serialized storytelling, and overarching adventure that comes along with the day-to-day stories. The show, though, has a very case-of-the-week feel, acting like a lot of Warner’s other comic book-adjacent shows. The Dead Boys, Edwin Payne (George Rexstrew) and Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri) joined by their psychic friend Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson), get a case they have to tackle, they go out into the city to handle it, and then “Case Close” comes at the end while they all care, and share, and have fun before moving on. It’s a solid premise, and a simple formula, but it works.

It works well because the actors all have solid charisma. Rexstrew is good as the uptight Edwin, a closeted gay man who was stuck in Hell for 60 years before finally escaping on wits and determination. Revri is great at Charles, the charismatic brawler who makes sure Edwin is protected as they solve cases. And I really like Nelson as Crystal, a psychic who lost her memories due to a demonic possession and is working to get them back. She has heart and style and she can really sell the various aspects of her character, making you believe she wants to know who she is while being afraid of who that might have been.

Really, though, the true heart of the show is Yuyu Kitamura as Niko Sasaki. Niko is a sweet and bubbly character who lives across the hall from Crystal at the flat she rents. She’s practically anime personified, and she even has cool, brightly colored images that would appear above her head anytime Crystal was around (although this was due to Dandelion Sprites who lived in her head and almost killed her before they were released). Niko steals every scene she’s in, bringing her light and bright attitude with her everywhere. She helps to lighten the tone and give Dead Boy Detectives the right, weird feel. She’s a character that could work just as easily in Doom Patrol, and I think that’s kind of the point.

With that said, having now watched the whole season, there is one character that I don’t think works nearly as well as she should: Esther Finch (Jenn Lyon). Esther is the witch who lives in town and she’s the one that kidnapped the young girl (the one the Dead Boys freed in the first episode). She’s immortal, and powerful, and has been in Port Townsend since before there was a Port Townsend. Functionally I understand the need for her character, to establish a big bad for the boys to eventually face. That works. But there’s something off about Esther, something that just doesn’t work.

I chalk this up to Lyon’s performance. She’s too over-the-top, too much of a cartoon villain in her performance to work in the context of the show. Dead Boy Detectives is a weird show, only slightly less bizarre than Doom Patrol, and in the right context a performance like Lyon’s could work. She vamps it up and tries to be strange and broad all the time. If she were in Doom Patrol she might have actually worked but she’s a bad tonal fit for Dead Boy Detectives and she makes her scenes feel off. I rather wish she was in less of the show, or they had a different actress to play her, as Lyon’s Esther just doesn’t work for me.

With that said, the other antagonist of the show does work better: the Night Nurse, as played by Ruth Connell. Connell actually reprises her role from Doom Patrol, even if technically these two shows are in different continuities, and she’s pretty solid. The Night Nurse is a pencil pusher, a mid-level bureaucrat for the afterlife who runs the Lost and Found office, looking to bring in lost, underage girls and boys (like the Dead Boys) so they can move on to their afterlife. It doesn’t matter to her that Edwin was sent to Hell by mistake, that he doesn’t deserve to be there. That will all get worked out in the end, she assumes, and it’s not her job to worry. So she comes to Earth and chases the boys, time and again, and like a certain animated coyote, ends up getting rebuffed time and again. It’s amusing, but it also shows there are stakes on the line for our two heroes.

The show is actually really good about stakes, also working on Crystal’s plotline with her demon that possessed her, David (David Iacono). She tries to run from him but he always finds her. He can get in her head, twist up her thoughts, and pluck away her memories. And even if she defeats him and somehow gets those back, then she has to struggle with who she is and what it means to be her complete self again. Will she still be herself or will she change back into someone she doesn’t like? Crystal gets a solid character arc, with the promise of more to come, and I appreciate that the show doesn’t just hand everything to her all at once. The pacing on this show is great.

This show is so good and I really hope more people pick it up and talk about it. Netflix has a tendency to cancel shows that don’t perform well, and their metrics for what “well” means doesn’t allow for mid-level, reliable performers (see also: GLOW). There’s every chance Dead Boy Detectives could get picked up again, but just as likely Netflix could say, “you didn’t dominate social media the week you were out, so off you go into the dustbin.” I hope that isn’t the case because this show is solid. We need more seasons of it, watching the adventures of these three heroes as they solve crimes and kick supernatural ass.

But at least the show ties up most of its major storylines by season’s end so even if we don’t get a second season we’re not left with a major cliffhanger that will bother us forever. If you worry about things like that with Netflix shows, and it keeps you from watching their stuff until you know a show will get a long run, don’t worry here. Just watch. Dead Boy Detectives is good, and it needs your eyes now.