NYCC Metaverse: Sophie Thatcher on the Unsettling Quality of “When the Streetlights Go On”

When the Streetlights Go On
Image: Quibi

When the Streetlights Go On, at first glance, doesn’t seem like a typical scary story. For the most part, it isn’t. It may revolve around a murder mystery, but much of the series is about exploring what happens in the aftermath of the murder rather than the murder itself. 

When the Streetlights Go On is a darker coming-of-age tale set in a small Midwestern town in the mid-90s that is rocked when a local high school student and a well-liked teacher are found brutally murdered in the woods. Numerous people are questioned as suspects, but much of the town jumps to blame the resident problem child, so naturally tempers start flaring when the murdered girl’s sister (Sophie Thatcher) starts dating him. The series premiered on Quibi in April of this year.

Last weekend at ReedPop’s virtual NYCC Metaverse event, the cast and crew of When the Streetlights Go On participated in Quibi’s “Quick Bites of Fright” panel. I was fortunate enough to get to speak with star Sophie Thatcher about her experiences on the series.

Though not technically the main character of the series (the episodes are narrated by Charlie, played by Chosen Jacobs), Becky (Thatcher) is nonetheless the focal point of the story. Becky is described by Charlie as the black sheep of the family, living in the shadows of her considerably more popular sister, Chrissy. Yet her sister’s death pushes her into the narrative, perhaps more than she would like. She suddenly has a social life where she’d previously spent much time alone, “concerned” parents who never really paid attention to her before, and the attention of multiple boys.

While Thatcher said that she thought Becky was a lot like Angela Chase from My So-Called Life, who is her favorite TV character of all time, she also admitted that the character was a lot like herself, as well. “I was very similar to [Becky] when I was in high school,” she said. “I kind of just floated around a bunch of different friend groups.”

There were a lot of similarities between Thatcher and her character, not just in her lived experiences but in also their interests and tastes. Thatcher admitted that she was into a lot of the same music that Becky was into. Even the relationship between the two sisters was something she could relate to. “I have a twin sister, and I was kind of living in their shadow, like how Becky was living in Chrissy’s shadow.”

Despite the similarities between Becky and herself – and the love for the 90s nostalgia – Thatcher was drawn to the project primarily because of the director, Rebecca Thomas. “I’d seen Electrick Children, which was her first feature film, and it was about Mormonism, and I grew up Mormon. And so did Becca, which was this weird, strange connection we had. […] It was mainly Rebecca Thomas. I was really excited about that.”

I remember thinking that this show’s inclusion on a panel called “Quick Bites of Fright” was an odd choice, considering that the panel also included guests from 50 States of Fright and The Expecting, both of which are more along the lines of “traditional” horror stories. But the reason that When the Streetlights Go On works as a scary story is because of the randomness of it and how unsettled it leaves you.

“It reminded me a little of Twin Peaks,” Thatcher said. “It was in the atmosphere. It’s the gloomy and grim feeling of the show.”

Thatcher also compared the show to The Virgin Suicides, which while not outwardly scary has that same unsettling quality to it. She attributed this to how the story is “real and unexpected”.

There is a scene that was cut from the last episode – I won’t go in depth because of spoilers – but Thatcher did talk about how it was a very stressful scene to shoot. We both agree that it’s better that the scene didn’t make it into the final version; she mentioned that there was already a lot of stuff going on in that final episode and that its inclusion would have made it all over the place tonally, and I think it’s better to leave things with a bit more mystery because it adds to the unsettling atmosphere.

I live alone, and I watched this show at night when there was rather a lot of wind. When I went to bed that night, I found myself jumping at every little sound. For me, regardless of how rare something like this is, it’s still that “what if” aspect to it that lingers.

I really enjoyed When the Streetlights Go On. I’m not one for scary movies – and indeed generally try to avoid them at all costs – but I was provided with screeners for the entire series, and I found myself drawn in to this story because it’s more about the characters than it is about the plot. Yes, the murders in the first episode are terrifying, and the fact that it seems to be totally random even more so, but the focus of the show isn’t the murders but how the town, especially Becky, deals with them.

“She has this underlying sadness to her,” Thatcher said. “15 is such a horrible age, when you’re beginning high school, and she’s experienced this tragedy and her sadness only intensifies. […] I was just trying to tap into that – what it felt like to be at that awkward age. It’s such a terribly awkward age.”

Quibi as a platform definitely helps with drawing you into the story. I told Thatcher that I felt that this story might not have worked as well if it were a movie, and she agreed. (Although she did admit that even as they were filming, she didn’t understand the concept and kept looking at it as an indie film.)

“It adds to the mystery,” she said. “It just kept you wanting to watch more and more. […] I like how things are separated. It gives you time to process, because there’s so much going on.”

When the Streetlights Go On is currently streaming on Quibi. If you’re looking for something to keep you up at night – not because of jump scares but because of just how creepy and overall sinister it is – then I highly recommend this show.

You can watch the entire “Quick Bites of Fright” panel, which also featured the casts and crews of The Expecting and 50 States of Fright, below:


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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