Dead End: Paranormal Park follows the story of two teens, Barney and Norma, who work at a haunted theme park during the summer. They face zombies, witches, and other challenges along the way.
Dead End: Paranormal Park is an animated supernatural horror fantasy series created by Hamish Steele, a British gay autistic comics writer. It is based on Steele’s DeadEndia graphic novel series and his 2014 “Dead End” animated short.
As a warning, this recommendation discusses some spoilers for season one of Dead End: Paranormal Park.
Dead End: Paranormal Park centers around Barney Guttman (Zack Barack), a gay Jewish trans man, and Norma Khana, a woman of Pakistani descent who is autistic. She was described as “neurodiverse” in the show’s official press release. They show up for the same job at a haunted house in Phoenix Parks, an amusement park owned by Pauline Phoenix (Miss Coco Peru). It is much different than what they imagined.
17-year-olds Barney and Norma are almost possessed by the demon king Temeluchus (Alex Brightman) but Barney’s animal companion, Pugsley (Brightman) saves Barney. His body is taken over, with Barney and Norma working together to trap Temeluchus inside a photograph, and causing Pugsley to gain the power to talk. In the process, they meet Courtney (Emily Osment), a thousand-year-old demon who gives them both jobs as security guards. She has a loyalty to Temeluchus, vowing to help him no matter what.
This is only scratching the surface. Barney has a family he feels that he can’t trust after they didn’t defend him (and his trans identity) when his grandma said mean and hurtful things about him. So, he begins living at the park instead of coming home. He feels that Pugsley is his only family. This contrasts with Norma, who seems to have a more loving family.
In later episodes, it is revealed that Barney has a crush on a man of Vietnamese descent, Logan “Logs” Nguyen (Kenny Tran). Also introduced is Badyah “Deathslide” Hassan (Kathreen Khavari), a Muslim of Iranian descent. Norma seems to have a crush on her. Barney’s younger brother, Patrick Guttman (Tucker Chandler), appears later.
As the series moves forward, the protagonists face more challenges, like creepy old mascots, who cause terror but seem misunderstood. Norma’s obsession with the park and its founder makes her helpful in more ways than one. This is especially the case when Pugsley, who can now talk, releases the mascots when he feels left behind by Barney. These themes are integral to this young adult animation.
Through it all, Barney finds a chosen family in the park. As he tells Norma, it is a place that can be himself, choosing if, and when, he tells people he is trans. It is different from when he is at home or a school, where everyone knows he is trans, causing extra pressure. This series expands trans storytelling in animation and LGBTQ+ storytelling. After all, Barney’s voice actor, Zach Barack, is a trans man in real-life.
It is different for Norma, who struggles with social awkwardness. As it turns out, what Steele went through as an autistic (and gay) person himself informed the writing of her character. This makes the character even more genuine than autistic characters like Stephanie “Stephie” Bondu in Assigned Male or Entrapta in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
In one episode, we learn the fears and anxieties of all the characters when a supposed guru claims he is there to “help” employees. Norma breaks people out of their fear-dreams and realizes her biggest fear is anxiety.
She reveals that her fear world is the real world. It causes the skull to crack, killing the instructor and making him explode. While this may seem gory for an animated show, it is nothing in comparison to the bloodiness of The Executioner and Her Way of Life or the bloody fights in Helluva Boss.
This contrasts with the fear of Barney, who does not fear his grandma, but his parents, feeling they don’t have his back and won’t support him. In the end, Norma confides in Barney, Courtney, and Pugsley that working at the park is her dream job.
Like any supernatural series, magic plays an important part. Courtney sees Puglsey, who has a shard of the demon kind in him, as a way to get home. This goes hand in hand with horror, like children possessed by a night spirit in one episode. But there can be levity.
The night spirit, Cheryl, and its component, Linda, the day spirit, are sisters, and dislike people labeling them as “hags”. They leave to go to a place that is less judgy. This is not at all surprising considering that the series takes inspiration from the Addams Family, especially Adams Family Values, as tweets from Steele indicate. Pugsley is even named after Pugsley from the Addams Family, but also he is a pug dog, and Steele had a guinea pig with the same name.
The series sends the message that you should accept people for who they are and not make any assumptions, and be respectful of other people’s identities. (Shows with similar messages include Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra)
With Courtney, a character who is unaware of gender and uses any pronouns, according to the show’s creator, as a protagonist, the series makes demons a big part of the story. She wants to go home to the demon realm, leading Barney, Pugsley, and Norma to even play on a game show, Hox’s Castle. They do this in hopes of making Courtney feel better about herself, although they have to go through pain along the way, including Barney coming back from the dead.
Later in the series, Courtney finally gets back to the demon world. She gets what she wants after making a Faustian bargain with Pauline. She realizes it is not all she thought it would be. It is depressing and she is more alone than she is on Earth. So, she comes back.
On that note, love is an important theme in the series, either romantic love or familial love. Barney struggles with both, but especially the latter. By the end of the series, he has made amends with his parents, who commit to doing better and making the house more welcoming.
In the case of the former, he tries to express his feelings toward Logs. A Black lesbian couple at one point, and possession of his body at another point, try to help. In the final part of the series, Logs helps get him out of jail and both agree to start dating.
Norma, as the socially awkward one, slowly expresses her feelings toward Badyah. As Steele revealed in a message to a fan, Norma likes multiple genders and is not straight. Some reviewers called her a “neurodivergent POC lesbian” or simply said she has a queer relationship with another girl (Badyah). In any case, another season would likely expand on this relationship.
All the characters in this series have traumatic experiences. Even Barney admits he has a therapist at one point. They are almost killed or maimed on various occasions. Worse is when their souls exit their bodies when they take possession of Barney.
They learn the dark secrets of the park and who is behind the disappearance of the Pauline impersonators. At first, it seems like Barborah (Karen Maruyama), the custodian, is behind it, but it’s more complex than that. They learn, when traveling through her that the real Pauline died. Someone else replaced her during Pauline’s first commercial.
On that point, the series criticizes the cult of celebrity worship. Pauline is not the happy and goody two shoes type of character she seems. Instead, she is a bit of a monster, a phantom if you will. The park is not what it appears to be, with connections to the demon world and elsewhere.
There are occasional breaks in the fourth wall. Courtney says, in episode 7, she had “so much character development” since the first episode. This is akin to Peridot’s retort in Steven Universe: The Movie after taking out the rejuvenator: “I could have lost all my character development”.
The show’s next-to-last episode is completely a musical. This is like many Steven Universe episodes since creator Rebecca Sugar is a big lover of musicals from what I’ve read. In some ways, it reminded me of the Elena of Avalor episode “Sweetheart’s Day” when Armando causes everyone to sing throughout the episode. It also made me think of the anime series Healer Girl focused on a group of girls who have the power to heal people with their songs.
Similar to gen:LOCK and The Executioner and Her Way of Life, internal mental struggles, either with real or imagined beasts, are something the characters have to endure. It is similar to the latter in the sense that it is queer and gay in many ways.
The end of Dead End somewhat echoes the final episodes of High Guardian Spice. The latter series features two trans characters, Caraway and Snapdragon, the latter working through her transition throughout the series. Not surprisingly, the series creator, Raye Rodriguez, happily supported Dead End, along with other animated series like Amphibia and Arcane.
In Dead End, many of the characters are turned into stone. This is like the town of Lyngarth was accidentally turned to stone by a terrasphere by the catgirl, Olive, in High Guardian Spice. Different from that series is the fact that Dead End includes spirits like Pauline who come to save the park, and a demon king. This causes a demon general, Tammie, to retreat and flee in defeat.
A second season could pick up where the first season left off. It could be in the aftermath of Pauline being zapped out of existence by angels, who are about to begin their “visit” (assault). There could be more on a romantic relationship between Logs and Barney, who kiss in the final episode. The same could be the case for growing romantic feelings between Norma and Badyah.
Having said that, I need to tell you that Netflix, more than any other streaming service, has declared war on its animation department. The controversial series, Q-Force, and many high-profile series in development were canceled. Before this, series like City of Ghosts, Centaur World, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, and Kid Cosmic, came to an end.
As such, the prospect for Dead End’s renewal looks grim, as do many other animated series currently on the platform, with a few exceptions. Hopefully, Netflix will see the value of LGBTQ+ storylines and a show with a diversity of experiences and identities, especially when it comes to trans stories, and continue it. But, I’m not too confident in them doing so.
Debuting on 16 June 2022, all 10 episodes of Dead End: Paranormal Park season one are currently streaming on Netflix.
Author: Burkely Hermann
Burkely is an indexer of declassified documents by day and a fan fic writer by night. He recently earned a MLIS with a concentration in Digital Curation from the University of Maryland. He currently voraciously watches animated series and reads too many webcomics to count on Webtoon. He loves swimming, hiking, and searching his family roots in his spare time.
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