I love myself a good anthology series but the genre’s biggest weakness has always been the inconsistency of the format. Due to the nature of the format (the individualized storytelling with nothing or at least very little tying the episodes together), the genre is just more prone to being more hit or miss than most. Most of the best series in this genre cap out at around 20-25% classic/great episodes and another 20-25% flawed but mostly good ones, with the other half being mediocre to bad. I would say season one of Monsterland has a very similar ratio, sporting three great episodes (though I would only consider one to be a “classic”), three serviceable ones, and two boring and below average installments.
As you would probably guess from the show’s title, Monsterland is a horror anthology series though not really horror in the form of hideous monsters, constant jump scares, or serial killers running around bloodily killing everybody. Instead, its more of a low-fi monsters hidden in plain sight type of deal (with the “monsters” often being very human in nature). There’s definitely monsters and a bit of blood and gore at times but I would call this series more of a drama than horror. It’s also a very well-made series, though one that can also be incredibly tough to watch at times.
As Monsterland is an anthology series, the episodes are all one-offs though there are a few minor things tying a few of them together (most notably a main character from one of the episodes showing up in minor roles in two others). It’s easiest just to write a bit about each episode individually so that’s what I’ll do.
- Port Fourchon, LA (Episode 1)-This episode is mostly about a young single mother who has a bad habit of bringing bad men to her house. Meanwhile, a killer is on the loose and naturally meets our main character. This one has a pretty interesting twist in the second half but the ending is also all sorts of messed up. Not the best beginning to the series but still decent. 3/5
- Eugene, OR (Episode 2)-One of my personal favorites, this one deals with a young man taking care of his mother who is suffering from the aftermath of a stroke. He’s down on his luck with absolutely nothing going his way. One night, a shadow creature appears in his room. He eventually joins an internet community known as the “Shadowatchers” who convince him that this shadow is the root of all of his problems. It’s an episode focused on the various predatory groups online and how they recruit vulnerable people. While it’s not a perfect episode (I thought one element of the storytelling was a bit weird and I’m not sure a shadow creature was the best choice for the character’s target), it’s a very good one that’s worth watching. 3.5/5
- New Orleans, LA (Episode 3)-Unfortunately, this episode and the next are definitely the worst ones of the season and the only ones I would strongly consider skipping over. Of course a series like this was going to have a MeToo episode and episode three is it. It is slightly different than usual, focusing on the perpetrator’s wife and the years she overlooked the signs, but it feels very bland and uninspired. 2.5/5
- New York, NY (Episode 4)-My least favorite episode of the season featuring a miserable oil executive who cut corners and caused a horrible oil spill (similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster). He is public enemy number one but when he finds himself holed up in a church, eats a communion wafer and starts asking God for forgiveness. I found the first half of the episode to be extremely boring while the second half is weird as hell (but not really in a good way). 2.5/5
- Plainfield, IL (Episode 5)-The worst two episodes are followed by the best offering of the first season. Plainfield, IL is about a woman dealing with her wife’s bipolar disorder and numerous suicide attempts. Saying anything more will spoil the best story of the season. Just trust me that this episode is extremely well-written and acted and absolutely heartbreaking to watch. It’s also a highly unique on a certain sub-genre. 4/5
- Palacios, TX (Episode 6)-This episode actually somewhat ties in with episode four, featuring the devastation that that episode’s oil spill caused on the fisherman of the Gulf Coast. Sharko is the hardworking son of an immigrant who while helping the clean up efforts, fell overboard and got sick. One day on the beach, he finds a beached mermaid that appears to be dead. He takes it home, puts it in his bathtub, and is surprised when it comes back to life. This is definitely the most comedic episode of this mostly strictly serious drama. It’s solid but also a story that’s been done before. 3/5
- Iron River, MI (Episode 7)-A teenage girl’s friend is missing. A decade later, the teen still hasn’t been found and her friend has seemingly taken over her life. She has effectively been adopted by the missing girl’s mom, is on the verge of marrying her former boyfriend, and also might have something to do with the girl’s disappearance. Kelly Marie Tran is good in the lead role but I found this plot to be pretty mediocre overall. 3/5
- Newark, NJ (Episode 8)-A couple is on the verge of breaking up sixteen months after their daughter was kidnapped. Amy is starting to give up hope that her daughter is still alive while Brian (Mike Colter) wants to keep everything the same because he knows she will eventually return. Meanwhile, “angels” have been falling from the sky. Another heartbreaking but also beautiful episode. This episode does tend to drag at times but it’s still a very good conclusion to the season and either the second or third best episode of the bunch. 3.5/5
Luckily, one benefit with anthology series is that you can always skip the “bad” episodes and focus on the good ones. Some viewers might like episodes three and four more than I did but I think most people can safely skip them to save some time. If an episode’s plot description doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy or you’re bored ten minutes into an episode, you can always skip it and move onto the next. For those only looking for the best episodes Monsterland: Season 1 has to offer, I would suggest watching episodes two, five, and eight for sure (episodes one, six, and seven may or may not be worth your time as well). The connections between the episodes are very small so if you skip an episode or two, you won’t really miss anything significant.
As you can probably tell by my descriptions of the episodes, Monsterland is very female-centric. Six of the ten main characters in the eight episodes are women, a much heavier ratio than most TV shows have. The show also deals with topics rarely covered like a mother dealing with a daughter they deep down wished they had aborted and how online communities prey on those who’ve been dealt a bad hand in life. Monsterland does get pretty political at times as things like MeToo and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are covered (“Donald Trump” even shows up for a brief but creepy “dream sequence” in episode four). I wouldn’t say the series is overly political but it is noticeable at times.
Even the episodes that I found a bit boring are well-made and acted but I will say one thing, Monsterland can often be very uncomfortable to watch. Not so much due to the horror of the monsters or anything like that (though there are some creepy moments at times) but due to how depressing some of the stories are. I consider myself to be an empathetic person who absolutely hates seeing people suffering and always wants justice for the poor and downtrodden. There’s several episodes in this series about people in really bad situations due to no (or little) fault of their own. Characters deal with poverty, grief, family issues, sicknesses (both physical and mental), and so on. Plainfield, IL (episode five) is an amazing episode but it’s also one of the most depressing episodes of TV I’ve ever seen. Many episodes of this series are really good but they may also stress and/or bum you out as well.
If you are interested in Monsterland for the horror element, I do think you may be a bit disappointed. There are definitely monsters, violence, and even some blood and gore at times but the focus is definitely on the more dramatic parts of the stories. It’s more of a drama with a horror element rather than a full-on horror series. This does also mean that horror cowards like me have nothing to fear. There’s some creepiness and a few bloody scenes but I, a self-professed coward, had no real issues in these areas.
While my scores for the eight episodes only average out to about a 3/5, I feel like that’s a bit too low of a score to assign Monsterland for its final rating. It’s too well-written and acted for it not to receive at least a 3.5/5. If you’re on the fence as to whether or not to watch Monsterland, I would suggest checking out episode five first. It is getting the most critical acclaim (add me to the list of those picking it as the best episode of the season) and despite being tough to watch, should help you decide whether or not to give the whole show a go. There are definitely skippable episodes in this season (three and four are easy passes in my book) but as a whole, Monsterland is pretty good and worth a recommendation.
Recommended For: Episode five is a must-watch for just about every viewer (although if you are sensitive to episodes focusing on mental health and suicide, it may be best to avoid it). As for the rest, there’s a few good to great episodes, a few mediocre ones, and two that I would recommend most viewers skip. This is one of the few series I would consider recommending watching out of order, focusing on the great episodes first and if you like them, continuing on with the rest.
Appears On the Following List Posts: None at the moment
Watch Monsterland: Season 1: Hulu
TV Completionist is our never-ending TV series review journal where the ultimate goal is to watch, write about, and curate as many shows (both new and old) as humanly possible. For more information on this post series and a list of shows already covered, see this post.