I grew up in the golden age of Disney Channel shows. As a tween, I would have killed to trade my middle school uniform for Lizzie McGuire’s bedazzled jeans and flashy tops, I would have ruled the world with Raven Baxter’s precognitive powers, and I totally would have been best friends with Ren Stevens. But my all-time favorite Disney Channel show, So Weird, is one that kind of flew under the radar and never got as much hype as the others. To be fair, it had a significantly different tone from the sparkly and neon pop vibe of the others that seemed to define a lot of preteen entertainment in the late nineties/early two thousands; it was more like X-Files for kids. And it played a huge part in developing my love of the horror genre.
So Weird follows Fiona “Fi” Phillips (Cara DeLizia), a preteen girl girl obsessed with the paranormal, as she travels the country with her musician mother Molly Phillips (Mackenzie Phillips), older brother Jack (Patrick Levis), her mother’s manager and best friend Irene Bell (Belinda Metz), Irene’s husband and tour bus driver Ned (Dave “Squatch” Ward), and their sons Clu (Erik Von Detten) and Carey (Eric Lively). Fi seems to encounter strange things wherever she goes, from the standard aliens and ghosts to folkloric figures like will o’ the wisps and banshees, all the while learning that her late father, Rick Phillips (Chris Gibson), might have been just as entangled in the world of the supernatural as his daughter.
The thing I love most about So Weird is that it doesn’t shy away from mature subjects despite it being a kids’ show. Death is an overarching theme; Fi constantly mourns the absence of her father, who died when she was two years old, several episodes focus on life after death, and there are multiple instances where characters are actually in danger of dying. The show also focuses on familial strife. Molly struggles with being a single mom on the road and mourning her late husband; Fi and Jack argue often and struggle to find common ground; there are even several episodes alluding to Molly’s difficult home life growing up and her strained relationship with her parents.
These themes wouldn’t land nearly as well without a strong cast, and fortunately So Weird has that. Cara DeLizia as Fi gives a likable and relatable performance, and she and Patrick Levis have amazing chemistry as brother and sister; they butt heads but still clearly love each other, and this dynamic never feels cheesy like a lot of other TV sibling relationships. Erik Von Detten as Clu provides plenty of comedic relief while still giving some touching, emotional performances. Belinda Metz as Irene and Dave “Squatch” Ward are a delight to watch and work so well together. And Mackenzie Phillips as Molly is extraordinary and gives some truly heartbreaking performances throughout the series.
Phillips doesn’t only give a strong acting performance in the series; her character is a musician, after all, and her musical skills are one of the things that makes So Weird extra memorable. The show’s opening song, “In the Darkness,” sets the tone so well, but there are several other songs throughout the series that have stuck with me over the past 20 years; “Rebecca” and “The Rock” are especially haunting. Seriously, if they ever release a So Weird soundtrack, I will be the first to buy it.
That said, the series did weaken in the third and final season due to a major tonal shift. If IMDB is to be believed, the show-runners wanted the third season to be a lot darker, but Disney rejected it and demanded a lighter storyline. Fi leaves the show altogether and is replaced with Annie (Alexz Johnson), the daughter of one of Molly’s old friends. It’s not Johnson’s fault-she gives a fun, solid performance throughout the season- but the episode plots in season three feel a lot goofier with lower stakes.
Despite the show’s underwhelming ending, So Weird has endured as a fun, spooky show for young horror fans. It’s been off the air since 2001, and for years you could only watch poorly-rendered uploads on YouTube, so I’m thrilled it’s available on Disney+ now. If you don’t have time to binge the whole series but still want to watch a few spooky episodes to get into the Halloween season, I would recommend “Angel” (season 1 episode 7), “Will ‘O the Wisp” (season 1 episode 13), “Boo” (season 2 episode 7-the show’s Halloween episode with a delightful performance from guest star/show producer Henry Winkler), “Banshee” (season 2 episode 11), and “Strange Geometry” (season 2 episode 12).
Thanks to the fans for keeping the spirit of the show alive throughout the past 15-20 years and for always keeping the faith. pic.twitter.com/m7PWp6XHzK
— So Weird (@SoWeirdonDisney) November 13, 2019
If you have kids who are interested in horror, or you just want to find a family-friendly show to watch during the Halloween season, I would absolutely recommend this one.
Have you seen the SO WEIRD? Well, what did you think?