I’ll be completely honest, I’ve never seen a Critters movie. But after four films, starting with the first in 1986, this new series from Shudder, and another film on the way – it seems these odd little sprites have some lasting entertainment in them. So, I went into the new series on Shudder Critters: A New Binge having with an open mind, and not much in the way of expectations. What I got was a mixed bag of a vulgar horror-comedy that misses more often than it hits.
So what’s Critters: A New Binge about you ask? The series starts off with the titular critters approaching Earth on a mission from their president to find a special critter that will change the universe. Not long after, we’re introduced to our protagonist Chris (Joey Morgan), his mother Veronica (Kristen Robek), and Uncle Murray who is for some reason played by Gilbert Gottfried. Our boy Chris is being forced on a diet by his mother, but luckily his best friend Charlie (Bzhaun Rhoden) is an enabler and after handing him a vaguely wrapped food item, they go to totally not creep on Chris’ crush Dana (Stephi Chin-Salvo). After signing up for a hot dog eating contest, because of course, Chris gets into a fight with Dana’s boyfriend Ethan (Quinn Bai), getting them all into detention. Despite being grounded, Chris puts up with some weirdly placed Viagra talk from his Uncle and then heads off to Dana’s party, where the critters attack and everything changes. In the mix, there’s also two bounty hunters that crash landed on Earth out to stop the critters evil master plan. Copy? Copy.
There is a lot going on in this series, some may say too much. There’s the attempt at half-mocking teenage drama, an alien invasion/conspiracy, and a Terminator-esque sub-plot about robot(?) bounty hunters. Honestly, if anything, the series may have needed another couple of episodes to flesh things out. That said, by episode five, Critters: A New Binge ran out of steam for me so I’m glad it ended when it did.
None of the characters have anything going for them substance-wise. They’re mostly all two-dimensional archetypes that we’ve seen done much better before. To hit this point home I think it be best to go into a couple of the characters to show just how little is really going on.
First up, we’ve got our main character Chris, whose character trait is that he’s chubby and socially awkward and that’s just about it. The series tries to flesh him out more, and provides a narrative reason for why he’s overweight, but none of it really ever comes together in any meaningful way. If anything, his character sort of feels like an excuse to just make a lot of fat jokes, which is a bit that really needs to stay in the past.
Next, I’ll use Dana’s boyfriend Ethan as an example. He’s a jerk. Nothing more and nothing less. It doesn’t make any sense is why exactly Dana is with him in the fist place. And I don’t mean “he’s a jerk” in the like “bad boy” type of way either, what I mean is that everything we see and know about him shows that he is just a genuinely awful person. He straight up frames Chris and Charlie for taking advantage of a girl who is passed out after a Critter knocks her out (which is a story Dana buys completely despite there being no evidence of it and the words coming from a guy who has just cheated on her). This just leads to a contrived narrative conflict that the series was much better without.
If I haven’t said it enough, I’ll say it again, the humans are the weakest part of Critters: A New Binge. None of them have much going on with them at all, and the acting either feels to stilted or to over-the-top. Which, is something that I can usually deal with, but the problem here is that the plot tries really hard to make the audience feel for the characters. Chris’s whole arc in the series is trying to come across as an empowering journey of self-discovery, but since the character falls flat it’s hard to really care.
Fear not though, because all my character complaints only apply to the humans. The Critters are, dare I say – pretty darn great. Their design is campy and at the same time almost adorable. What really works with them is that, well, they’re funny. While some of their jokes definitely come across as obnoxious, the ones that hit are genuinely comical. We spend about half the time in the series around the critters, so I was happy that I enjoyed most of what I saw of them on-screen. They’re vulgar and childish, but in mostly all the right ways.
Speaking of childish and vulgar, most of the jokes from the human characters of Critters: A New Binge do not fare so well. I hope you like swearing and sex jokes. (Although, I will admit there were some phallic jokes involving giant space guns that did get a good chuckle out of me.) The Critters are kind of the same way in how their jokes are written, but they get away with it because their mischievous character design and language adds to the jokes they make. If this series had of focused more on the Critters themselves, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience.
I know I’ve sounded really negative so far, so to be a little more positive I’ll just quickly go through a few things that worked for me that I haven’t already mentioned. For one thing, I really dug the practical effects, not just for the Critters but for really just about everything. It all felt very retro science-fiction, but without being too in your face. I also liked the amped-up gore factor, particularly a scene at the end during the hot dog eating contest when the Critters make their full-on attack. Lastly, I really respected that the series knew exactly what it wanted to be and went for it. Even if it didn’t work a lot of the time, I still appreciate the zany effort and passion behind it.
In the end Critters: A New Binge isn’t all bad and I don’t regret watching, but at the same time I wouldn’t really suggest it. However, people familiar with series may see some more value here that I missed, so for any fans of Critters out there I’d say maybe give it a go. Critters: A New Binge is streaming Exclusively on Shudder.