Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Recommended: Todd and the Book of Pure Evil

Despite my "prolific" blogging (a friend said that), I only look at two message boards. AV Club is one such, and one Angel/Buffy commenter advised horror fans to try a Canadian series called Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. I made a mental note, found I couldn't watch it in the US, and moved on. Months passed...

Three weeks ago, a huge smile bloomed on my painfully-cute face as I scanned Netflix Instant's awkward "New Releases" and "Recently Added" sections (awkward since they're not chronological, and are repetitive) - TatBoPE was available! I started watching, noting there were 25 eps to enjoy... And I was blown away. This show is fun, smart, and well-written. 

I was genuinely shocked. It happens seldom with me and TV offerings; you expect to get some nice ideas condensed for easy consumption, or charismatic actors/actresses with decent lines, but you don't expect a home run of quality. Alphas, Lost Girl's first season, the early run of Wilfred... it's rare, but many series can display an artistic bent and intelligence, while also being pure fun. This was one of those shows.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is about the titular Todd, a high school kid who loves three things: metal music, weed, and the hottest girl in school, Jenny. At the start, we see him in a music-competition at his school, Crowley High. His adversary is a better musician, a good-looking bully who's dating Jenny. After being embarrassed and dismissed, Todd discovers a tome that looks a lot like Evil Dead's book, The Necronomicon - but with the "metal horns" gesture on the cover. 

Everything changes after that. Todd becomes arrogant and angry, challenges his rival to another music-off, and then makes him bleed from... down there. Jenny is intrigued by the symbol Todd has on him now - the same sign that was in a photo her own journalist dad took before he vanished. Jenny uses Todd's feelings for her to investigate her pop's disappearance.

Meanwhile, Curtis, Todd's one-armed best friend, is getting sidelined because Todd is now a total jerk. Hannah, a familiarly-attractive, nerdy ginger with a crush on Todd, is curious about all the weird things going in at the school. And the school's guidance counselor, Atticus, takes commands from some ominous old men in hoods and robes. I love the whole cast, but Chris Leavins deserves extra credit for his part as Atticus Murphy, Jr.

This is all the setup established in the pilot ep, in which our lead is nearly overcome by demonic forces, then brought back to normal. In the aftermath, Curtis, Jenny, and Todd realize that the Book is an incredibly dangerous object that is latching onto the emotional trauma felt by the kids of Crowley High. In the 25 episodes that follow, this series does a fantastic job of entertaining viewers. It lives up to the metal elements, the teen angst aspects, and the difficult job of being both scary and comedic and worth your time.

This is an achievement, since this practically qualifies as an Indie TV show... Despite the budget constraints and unexpected ensemble cast, Todd will probably never stop amusing you, much as no single ep ever really failed to do with me.

Their musical episodes are perhaps even better than what you get from Buffy.

Craig David Wallace, Charles Picco, and Anthony Leo created this Canuckian series, based on the short film of the same name (you can watch it here), which was written by Max Reid and Craig David Wallace (who also directed). They did a fine job of giving Todd a genuine appeal that people can latch onto - never losing their voice or their own sense of style, no matter how much they borrowed from other sources.

Regardles, no one should get the impression that this is a mere Raimi/Whedon ripoff. Yes, there are two male teens and two female teens and one wise "old" male father figure, as well as a Demon Book. But, rather than coming off like a male-centered Buffy clone, this should - at worst - be seen as a modern Buffy update/re-imagining. I surely wasn't offended.

Sad and unloved is what I am/Jenny banished me to Loserland/Gonna die a lonely dude...[hot girl stares at him cooly, flicks her cigarette]WOAH! I think I my dick just moved/Who the hell is that?
-Todd, S2 Ep 10, "2 Girls, 1 Tongue"

I love that the cast is full of unknown (to me) actors, people who don't look as impossibly-attractive as the cast of Lost or some Fox/CW television series. The only familiar face was Jason Mewes, known to film fans everywhere as Jay from Kevin Smith's Clerks. It's more of cameo role, but he really makes every moment shine.

There are many clever moments to balance out the silly teen/pot humor: our lead can act sensitive and concerned for Jenny, then he screws it up by trying to get intimate with his object of affection; Curtis is a steadfast friend, but he seems to have a homoerotic attraction to his best bud; Hannah is smart enough to do anything, yet she tags along with this danger-prone crowd because she likes the ignorant Todd and has nothing else to do; the cheerleaders screw the science teacher, and one student objects to a school stage production because musicals are "so proletarian."

At no time does TatBoPE make phony efforts to elevate the material. We get real, troubled teenagers with flaws and desires and goals (mostly sex). They act like any old screw-up kids would, to the benefit of the viewers at home. If anything makes the show seem "ambitious," it's the camerawork, references, and sharp, sharp writing. The big sin here is that Canada's Space Channel balked at a third season.  

I raced through every ep of this show, and watched a few several times - something uncommon for me with modern TV series. I think Todd's appeal is obvious, and that everyone can enjoy the combination of horror and comedy and the "real-teen" sensibility that I haven't seen since the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The true-to-life cursing and drug references are also a bonus, but they're not the main draw...

The best thing I can claim about Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is that I've seriously considered buying the DVDs, though I can watch them through my Netflix Instant account. In these cost-conscious days, it's almost the strongest compliment I can give: I want to be able to watch this series even after I've cancelled my Netflix subscription. 

I know it only ran from Sept 2010 to January 2012, but please, run, don't walk, to watch this show...

Half a Film Student


  1. What you haven't mentioned that really is a big draw for some people is the over the top levels of gore and blood. That and the creatively insults and cursing. I mean hey this is a show where at one point cheerleaders pulled off a dudes arms and blood just went everywhere.

    The show is great and deserves to be recognized as such.

    1. Y'know, you're right. Sure, there's plenty of gore in the trailer, but I couldn't find a band-battle that showed Jenny's boyfriend bleeding out his ---. I have never seen splatter-type gore from a tv show before, and I also loved the cursing.

      I might edit the post, add a paragraph on that, but you've pointed the gore out for me... Thanks!

    2. no problem. I've shown this show to people and it's NEVER failed to impress because you don't expect the grandiose amounts of blood, language, and humor. The show is bloody fantastic and I mean that literally.

  2. I'm not sure why "lost girl" gets a comparison, but this is on a whole other level. "Lost Girl" is one of the worst shows out there, Todd is one of the most awesome shows I've ever seen. I don't think it should be mentioned or compared to in the same article... Could potentially turn people off

    1. Thanks for your opinion - though I disagree, I CAN actually see where you're coming from. "Lost Girl," to me, has a *weak* second season; enough that I can see people ditching it altogether. However, its first season, much *all* of "Todd" (and "Alphas"), had no reason to be as tightly-written and surprising as it was.

      Most genre shows have had typical and weak writing. The same thing you've seen happen before, happens again. They never do the unexpected, and they follow a story path that's as predictable as most CBS police procedurals. Or, look at it this way: I still remember what a complete failure "Heroes" was after its first season. "Heroes" had more money and attention than they could possibly dream of, but it just grew worse and worse.

      So when I watched the first season of "Lost Girl," I was surprised by how often they would go left when I was sure they would go right. I was impressed by how much it focused on its characters. "Alphas" did it, too, and I expected *that* to suck hard!

      "Todd" similarly, did not have the budget or popular cast that leads to high expectations. But the actors and writers and crew came out swinging from the get-go. "Todd" is a far, far stronger show than "Lost Girl," but it felt right to mention it because it was a real surprise. Or maybe SyFy just dropped the ball too often for me to hope for better...


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