Netflix’s newest animated show Dead End: Paranormal Park, created by Hamish Steele and based on both Steele’s successful graphic novel “DeadEndia” and their Cartoon Hangover web short Dead End has finally premiered. The show follows trans teen Barney (Zach Barack), Norma (Kody Kavitha), and Barney’s pug Pugsley (Alex Brightman) and their work at a supernatural theme park full of demons, zombies, witches, and crushes. And what really makes Dead End: Paranormal Park stand out is how it’s as truthful and honest about internal conflict as it is about external adventure.
The show manages to be full of heartfelt and relatable experiences and jam-packed with humor and exciting adventures. According to Steele, the show blends the warmth and adorableness of Heartstopper with the adventure and excitement of horror stories like Stranger Things to form an epic show that’s unique to itself while remaining a relatable and fun all-around experience. Dead End: Paranormal Park stood out for me thanks to the obvious care and love that went into writing authentic, diverse characters. These characters are easy to connect with; more importantly, they have a lot of room to grow.
[SPOILERS AHEAD FOR DEAD END: PARANORMAL PARK]
To give just one example, it’s refreshing to watch Barney’s journey, which is the rare example of a trans character story that doesn’t revolve around coming out. Rather, Barney’s arc focuses on the aftermath of coming out, and how relationships with your family and yourself can change as a result. Barney’s story this season is the perfect reminder that even though family members may say they support and love you for who you are, their actions are what tell you whether that support is real.
All season long, Barney has to come to terms with why it bothers him so much that his family isn’t fully on his side and work up the courage to voice his feelings without settling for any less than he’s worth, even if that means having uncomfortable conversations and standing up for himself in a way that hurts the people he loves the most. Barney is kind, enthusiastic, and relatable, and only wants what’s best for those around him – so putting himself first for once is a strong lesson for trans kids everywhere to never settle for less than you deserve.
On the other hand, Norma’s journey on Dead End: Paranormal Park Season One is all about getting herself out of her comfort zone. The show establishes pretty early on that Norma doesn’t process the world in a “normal” way, hinting heavily that she’s on the autism spectrum and struggles with social anxiety. Norma has spent her entire life learning everything she can about Pauline Phoenix (Miss Coco Peru), the celebrity on whom Dead End Park is based, only to get a job at the park by thinking this knowledge everything she needs to finally belong somewhere. It’s only by opening herself up to new experiences and trusting new people that Norma finally allows herself to love and be loved, finding a new support system in Barney and the rest of the Dead End employees.
At its core, Dead End: Paranormal Park is all about found family and finding out where you belong. As a queer adult, I found myself in tears over this show more than once; even now, my heart soars when I think about how much comfort and meaning the show will bring to queer kids discovering who they are and finding their way in the world. Because, while Dead End: Paranormal Park‘s adventure, fantasy, and horror elements are engaging and fun to watch, it’s the characters that made me fall in love and kept me hooked. Through these stories and their experiences, we’ll continue to normalize queerness, the queer experience, mental health, and how we perceive the world differently, so that young kids will never have to feel “weird” and out of place ever again.