As an avid fan and scholar of television, I take pride in the fact that I have a solid understanding of the medium. On the whole I’d say we’re good friends. However, every once in a while a show arrives out of the blue, beats me over the head until I’m reeling, and proclaims in a loud, satisfied voice, “Lol oh honey. You thought.”
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is that show.
“This is our home, and it’s a place where the strange and unusual are safe and welcome.” So proclaims Christine when a werewolf collapses on her doorstep, wearing a sign that says DO NOT FEED FLESH and pissing off her other two housemates, a stuffed, reanimated raccoon and a
resurrected, Egyptian cat. So, gothic kids show?, you ask. Not quite. Curious Creations is at its heart a cooking show… although take that statement with a serious grain of salt. It’s baking with a rather large dash of strangely compelling plot. There are puppets, yes, though probably not the kind you should be showing to your kids. Rose is a thirsty girl who proudly recounts her escapades with the neighbor’s dogs and when Rankle isn’t demanding that people worship him, he—like most of the cast—is out to murder everyone. The new werewolf, Edgar, is paradoxically the most tame: a sad boy with an artistic streak. Not exactly the sort of thing that’s going to replace Saturday morning cartoons. And just when you thought you’ve got a handle on the structure the show throws in curveballs like actual, heartfelt messages… or a brick through the window from an angry neighbor. It’s Food Network meets sitcom meets dark Sesame Street, all hosted by a long-lost Adams Family cousin who grew up to be Martha Stewart.
Because how else do you describe Christine McConnell? Long before Netflix snatched her up she was already Instagram famous for her delightfully spooky concoctions. Things like hyper realistic spiders made out of caramel and nuts, cobra cinnamon rolls, or Alien pie:
That staggering talent and attention to detail translates to Curious Creations. However, from the perspective of someone interested in baking, her instructions are fundamentally useless. Which is hilariously unexpected for a cooking show. Granted, it’s not like there isn’t a lot of expected leeway in the genre. We all know Paula’s taking more time out of her day than we see on screen, no one’s kitchen actually looks like Giada’s, and yeah, you can use store bought for the stuff made on Barefoot Contessa, but if you do Ina’s gonna be judging you hard. You don’t have time to make whipped cream from scratch? For shame! The cooking genre is just as contrived as anything else, but that being said, there’s still a recipe involved. There are still ratios and instructions. It might be a pared down version of what needs to be done, but I still come out of each episode with a general sense of how to make the dish.
Curious Creations? Not so much.
We start out simple enough, making edible bones shaped with a pre-made dough. What’s the ratio for the ingredients in the dough? Not said, but maybe I’m supposed to look the details up later? Possible. The point is making spooky snacks out of pretzels, peanut butter, and white chocolate sounds doable, even if there's airbrushing involved. However, fifteen minutes later we've moved from pretzels to this:
Wait what? Let me set the scene. Christine begins her ‘demonstration’ with the cake-house already made and frosted, leagues away from anything I could ever accomplish even if I’d been told how to do it in the first place. She says she’s been working on it for “quite some time now” and…yeah. Kinda picked up on that. The lesson seems to be about decoration instead… except boy do we fly fast through a bunch of techniques. Make some eyeballs for the front of the house! Sketch lines into every surface to mimic wood! Pipe shingles onto the roof! Don’t forget to airbrush those as well, complete with shading! The same hop-skip occurs when Christine whips out a fully sculpted werewolf, admitting with a sheepish expression that he’s “a few steps ahead" already.
I honestly don’t think it’s my own ineptitude in the kitchen that makes labeling this episode a tutorial seem absurd. The goal here appears to be wide-eyed amazement, not anything resembling education. Like Christine’s original Instagram account, we’re meant to oooh and ahhh over her creations’ finished results, not get too bogged down in how the magic actually happened. After all, that ruins a bit of the fun, doesn’t it?
And the show is very aware of its strange cooking-show-but-not-really status. “Who is she talking to?” Rose asks when Christine starts addressing the audience and Rankle notes that she’s a “little mad,” but that’s okay. However, the most extraordinary commentary occurs at the end of the first episode, when the camera focuses on a table laden with sweets we had no idea Christine was making and the cake, normally the centerpiece of a finale, is quickly destroyed.
But that’s alright! Christine always makes a backup—drawing attention to the absurdity of making a cake like that in the first place. If you manage it then hell, you’re a wizard and we might as well assume you could whip up a second one too. We’re already knee deep in suspension of disbelief. In fact, let’s not focus on the second cake either. Instead, the emotional heart of the final scene—the object we’re supposed to oooh and ahhh over now—is a painting Edgar did to express his gratitude. It’s just a little thing, really. Made out of some supplies he found under the stairs, right next to where he pees.
“Derivative,” Rankle says.
Honestly, I’m not sure how to describe Curious Creations to you. I suspect it’s going to take a whole paper’s worth of attention and more theory than my poor, tired brain can sort through right now. It’s definitely meta. Partly parody. (Not too much though.) A messy mashup of genres. Self-referential… and yet charmingly sincere. Above all it’s entertaining and if you’re looking for any so-called innovation in today’s television, look here.
What sort of creations will Christine cook up next? Who threw the brick through their window? Is there actually a difference between being buried and mangled in a garbage truck?
I don’t know, but I sure can’t wait to find out.