In its quest to be all things to all people, Netflix releases a lot of content that wouldn’t make the cut at most networks. This filler tends to get dumped on off days, or in the shadow of higher-profile series. October Faction, nominally a supernatural monster-hunting drama, premiered just one day before the release of the next batch of episodes of the similarly themed Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Netflix made it quite clear that October Faction was a dud. The show, filmed more than a year ago, dropped on a weekday with virtually no promotion, and for good reason. It’s bad, at least based on the first half of the season, which was as far as I got before I couldn’t take the inanity any longer.
October Faction tells the story of the Allen family of monster hunters who work for a mysterious international organization called the Presidio. The parents, Fred and Dolores (J. C. Mackenzie and Tamara Taylor), hide their activities from their twin teenagers Geoff (Gabriel Darku) and Viv (Aurora Burghart) as they move from one world capital to another. However, when Fred’s monster-hunter father dies (or seems to die, anyway), the family returns to their ancestral home in upstate New York where a series of contrivances lead to them taking up permanent residence in the family manse, unleashing mildly threatening supernatural creatures, and taking in Fred’s snarky mother, another ex-agent. (Where in upstate New York is another question—it seems to take place on the Hudson River but within driving distance of Ithaca, about 200 miles from the river.)
As you might have guessed, the show is based on a comic book, which I have never read.
Any description of the plot makes the show sound more interesting than it is. Across the first two hours, the show can’t quite settle on what it wants to be. It throws around various themes and ideas without adequately supporting any of them. It feints toward dealing with racism since the parents are of different races and the kids biracial, but it never raises the issue to a thematic level. Indeed, it doesn’t quite seem to see that it has lined up the predominantly white high school students against the only black kids in town. It tries to deal with homophobia since Geoffis gay, but it can’t quite seem to figure out what to do with that except for name-calling. It wants to deal with issues of social class, miscegenation, and white privilege, but it can’t get a handle on any of them. Instead, characters say ridiculous things in absurd language. Geoff actually complains about the “Bronze Age bucolic strip mall satire” of town life, and a teacher berates him for lording his wealth over the “peasants.” (Yes, he’s written as a snarky meta-commentator on the show itself.)
You would think there would be monsters in a show about monster-hunting. There are some, but not as many as you would expect, since show creator Damian Kindler (from, ugh, Sleepy Hollow) seems torn between trying to be a 1990s-style genre show and a 2000s-style campy high school soap, and the high school antics keep winning out. “October Faction, at its heart, is really a family drama with a lot of supernatural elements to it,” Kindler told Screen Rant yesterday. Translation: We didn’t have the money to do anything useful with the monsters. Nor do the monsters exist as anything more than random weird creatures to blast away. There is no coherent theory of monsters behind them, or at least the first half of the season doesn’t care about one. Similarly, the Presidio isn’t really sketched as anything more than a standard-issue all-powerful monster-hunting organization, complete with secret bases, ridiculous tech, and endless allusions to deep things that are less portentous than pretentious.
The lack of monster action seems dictated by the show’s low budget, which also manifests in its poor special effects, unconvincing green screens, and sparsely populated location shots. Like many low-end Canadian productions, the show has that distinctively made-in-Canada look—over-lit, too much of each shot in sharp focus, and stagey, square blocking. There is no style to the series, nor sense of aesthetics. The set design is pedestrian, the costumes boring, the monsters derivative, and every level of the production design screams “I don’t care!” Even the title card is crappy. The indifferent acting reinforces the notion that everyone involved realized they were making disposable trash and put in the minimum effort to get paid.
The writing is terrible. It pivots between clichés and overwritten baroque monologues, and I remain dumbfounded that TV teens still refer endlessly to 1980s pop culture. How old are TV writers now, anyway? I’m getting close to 40, and these references are just at the limits of my memory. Worse, it imagines that surprises that were old when Buffy the Vampire Slayer did them two decades ago are still shocking revelations, and that the audience hadn’t already guessed them long before the characters. And the characters—oh, are they awful. The parents are traumas and anger without redeeming quality. The daughter, for most of the first half, is a non-entity. Teen son Geoff is at the show’s attempt at a P.O.V. character and the only one given some semblance of depth. Too bad they make him a smugly unlikable jackass who cheats on his boyfriend and comments incessantly in double-meanings that critique the show itself.
I’m also not fully comfortable with the choices the show made to highlight Geoff’s homosexuality, or the strong implication that authentic homosexuality is synonymous with being fussy and arch. I groaned when they went the route of the hypermasculine jock being suicidal because he’s secretly gay. I mean, come on. That plot again? It’s a Netflix cliché at this point. At least it was given a little more time to develop than the daughter’s parallel date rape plot in the same episode. The clichés are so thick I almost wondered if there is a Netflix plot generator bot that breaks episode stories for them. It turns out the answer is no. Kindler did this on purpose. He told Screen Rant that he wanted to “make it about a family; make it about real issues and touch on themes that are very important today: xenophobia, homophobia, racism, bullying, coming of age.” It’s a woke bingo card! He even describes his approach as a “trope we’ve seen hundreds of times.” Ugh!
And just in case you worried that there wasn’t a fringe history connection, Kindler added that he invented the Presidio Foundation for the series and modeled it on modern conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar. It’s like Scott Wolter’s wet dream!
Presumably once the story pivots in episode five and the kids get clued in to what’s going on, the story will improve. But that’s five episodes into a ten-episode season, and far too late for me to still care about a slow-moving story going nowhere fast as it treads water toward a planned second season.
In short, October Faction is another lazy, half-assed genre show that exists less because it has something to say than because somebody wanted a paycheck. It joins other duds like The Order, V Wars, and The I-Land in the ranks of below-par Netflix offerings that range from campy and watchable to train-wreck television. To be honest, I prefer an ambitious failure to a mediocre success. October Faction is never bad enough to be enjoyably awful, and it is never good enough to actively enjoy. It’s good enough to have on if there’s nothing else to watch, but I’ll be watching Sabrina today and probably won’t remember this one when I’m done.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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