Based on the timeless and best-selling series by R.L. Stine, the new Goosebumps series from Hulu and Disney+ takes some of the most popular stories (and characters) and crafts a new world around them. Fittingly premiering (and holding a New York Comic Con panel plus a themed after-party) on Friday October 13, the series is a nice mix of horror elements and emotional beats.
I got the chance to sit down with executive producers Rob Letterman, Nicholas Stoller, Hilary Winston, Pavun Shetty, and Conor Welch at NYCC to talk about the series.
For starters, this is far from the first Goosebumps adaptation. Young’uns may not know, but us ’80s and ’90s kids remember the series on Fox Kids. Not to mention the film series, which was just released in the last decade. But it was important to the creative team to make this series its own thing, and one of the biggest differences is that this series is serialized – it has some ‘horror of the week’ aspects but as part of a longer, ongoing story.
“That was one of the reasons we decided to make it serialized as opposed to anthological,” said Welch. “The previous adaptations – and the books, obviously – were closed-ended stories. We really wanted to start with characters and the character dynamics of our youngsters and also of our adults, and have a mystery that sort of would make you want to binge the series all the way through.”
“It’s complicated to tell, you know, a story that had lots of interconnections,” said Stoller.
Said Shetty, “At the heart of the show, it’s a bunch of high school kids, and it’s their parents, and you’re dealing with all these messy, awkward situations that any high school kid and any parent would deal with, even without all the crazy stuff on top of it.”
“And trying to get it elevated to where it would appeal to people who may have grown up on the books, and are in their 30s and 40s now, as well as younger teens, and people who have no experience with Goosebumps,” said Letterman. “Like we wanted to make a show that worked for everybody.”
“We also tonally, in addition to obviously the Goosebumps and the horror stuff, wanted to draw upon like movies that we all loved as kids,” said Stoller. “Like the John Hughes movies, or a TV show like Freaks and Geeks or Edge of Seventeen – stuff that really respects kids, you know.”
“This show is really grounded,” said Winston. “How would you actually react if this stuff was happening in your life? If you really found a Haunted Mask, like how would you act? That’s one of the things we always talked about in the room.”
When it came to choosing which Goosebumps books to adapt, they went with the classics.
“The first five episodes obviously are based on five of the most popular books in the canon,” said Welch. “[…] And then after episode 5, you know, it becomes a serialized story that drifts from those books a bit, but then we pull from other books in this series for little Easter eggs and stuff for fans that hopefully they will dig.”
“We also picked books that didn’t step on each other as far as the genre of horror,” said Shetty. “Psychological horror and gross-out horror and monster horror… All of the books for the first five episodes and the stories we chose, we tried to have a little bit of subgenre fun with them.”
Said Stoller, “The book series delves into so many different subgenres of horror; it’s fun to get to – in five episodes – do body horror and the ghost story and you know, a psychological thriller, and there’s even more books. There’s so many books and stories that we haven’t touched on that touch on so many different horror subgenres. As a fan of horror, that’s an exciting thing to get to explore.”
“Slappy is in the series, everyone knows that,” said Shetty. “He’s the most popular Goosebumps character there is. So we knew a lot of people would their eyes on what this iteration of Slappy would look like, so physically putting him together and figuring out […] how the movements would look, what would make him really scary, but also funny at the same time, was a real challenge. But it was also a real thrill.”
The heart of the show, however, is in its characters. That was what the team primarily focused on, even when choosing which stories to adapt. What stories would work for what these characters were going through? How could they make everything relatable? They needed to craft a story that would work for kids and adults, and so the parents needed to get their own arc.
“We knew when we were developing the show that we were going to write the characters and then cast the actors and then rewrite based on the actors we cast,” said Shetty. “And so we wanted these actors who ended up being amazing and we lucked out just to bring a lot of their own experiences.”
“The high school experience, while it’s changed over the years of course, and through generations, […] really is evergreen in a lot of ways insofar as ideas of figuring out who you are, identity, first loves, heartbreak, stuff like that,” said Welch. “So we felt like so long as we really nailed the angst of those very relatable issues that hopefully, it would resonate with all ages.”
Said Winston, “Our big hope is that if you read these books growing up, you might be at the age that you have kids – or don’t – you still like this world. So we really wanted to tell a story with the parents that was engaging and interesting and complex, as well as telling a story with teenagers that […] it’s gonna be relatable to you.”
“One of the things that I’m most excited for people to see,” said Welch, “is Justin Long playing a character who is fighting with a 16-year-old boy who has possessed his body – literally fighting, mentally fighting, physically fighting. Just to watch that on set with him, literally physically fighting with himself for hours was outstanding.”
Now, while the first season may be fairly contained, with a multi-episode arc that comes to a pretty solid and definitive conclusion, there is a bit of a tease at the end that hints at the potential for another season. And with so many books to choose from, possibilities are endless.
“I think by design the show – and the whole concept – allows us to follow these characters in perpetuity and keep mapping Goosebumps books and totems and different Goosebumps storylines to the cast of characters we have […],” said Letterman. “Like we tried to design a world where we could just lean in and keep mining all of the different Goosebumps books.”
Said Shetty, “We’re lucky to have access to all of the books so there’s plenty to choose from. And I think a show like this especially allows you to play with form a lot because it is a little bit of a genre mashup.”
“I think we would love to find another story like with season one,” said Winston, “a larger story that we can weave, you know, a lot of the different book titles that we didn’t get to use this time. […] The secret ingredient of the season is finding that overarching bigger story that we can feed into.”
“And the one thing we’re sure of, if we are so lucky as to get more seasons,” said Welch, “is to keep this cast together, because we really feel like we lucked out with this group of young adults who really just had incredible chemistry right out of the gates. Justin Long, obviously overdelivered as he always does, but Rachael Harris, Rob Huebel… We really feel like, yeah, they totally delivered, and we’d love to see a lot more from them.”
All right, I’ll admit it: I was never really into Goosebumps as a kid. I’ve never been a big fan of horror, and even toned-down horror meant for kids was not my jam. That said, when I got the screeners, I found myself enjoying it way more than I expected to. I hadn’t intended to watch the entire series before NYCC – I didn’t really have the time – but I would get to the end of an episode and just have to watch the next one. (Especially episode 2! Talk about a cliffhanger!) So when I say this is a good show that everyone should watch, you can take my word for it! It’s not my nostalgia goggles.
Goosebumps is currently streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. New episodes air on Fridays.
Be sure to check out the rest of our coverage from NYCC 2023!
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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