The Roku Channel’s The Spiderwick Chronicles Falls Fantastically Flat

TV Reviews roku
The Roku Channel’s The Spiderwick Chronicles Falls Fantastically Flat

On August 26, 2023, it was announced that Disney+ had let go of their adaptation of best-selling children’s series The Spiderwick Chronicles. The eight-episode show had been totally completed but, due tocutting programming costs,” would no longer appear on Disney’s streaming service. In an era where completed projects are sometimes deleted entirely, doomed to never be seen again, this decision was disheartening, if not entirely surprising. 

But then, two months later, a Hollywood miracle happened: the series was rescued! Thanks to The Roku Channel, The Spiderwick Chronicles would indeed see the light of day, albeit on a much smaller streaming platform. However, after watching all eight mind-numbing episodes of the show, perhaps Disney was onto something after all.

Based on the set of novels by authors Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, the series tells the story of the Grace siblings who, following the divorce of their parents, move from the city to an old, rural family estate. Once at the creaky house, twins Jared (Lyon Daniels) and Simon (Noah Cottrell) begin to discover strange artifacts that spell trouble both within the house and in the outside world. But those artifacts aren’t entirely out of the ordinary, as the house used to belong to their relative Arthur Spiderwick (Albert Jones), who spent his entire life dedicated to the belief that faeries and other supernatural creatures are entirely real. After learning more about a mysterious creature living in their walls, the kids begin to realize that Arthur and their “crazy” great-aunt Lucinda (Charlayne Woodard) are maybe not so crazy after all. As they begin to make more discoveries, the kids learn that the evil ogre Mulgarath (Christian Slater) is on the loose and is attempting to get his hands on Arthur’s Field Guide, which contains the secrets to the magical world.

There is more to the show than this synopsis, but, unfortunately, this sums up most of the original book material that is retained here. Those looking for a straightforward adaptation—such as the televised versions of A Series of Unfortunate Events or Percy Jackson—will need to look elsewhere. The series marks an extreme departure from the original story; entire books are omitted and replaced with new storylines, characters, and strange decisions. Though interviews with the creators indicate that the series adapts book one and five, the original story is so far gone that even what remains is barely recognizable. Authors Black and DiTerlizzi are involved as executive producers, but their lack of writing credit is telling. Without their sense of story, the world created here feels their loss.

The poor adaptation aside, it’s important to look at the merits of the series on its own terms. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Across its plodding eight episodes, the events of the series never delve far enough into interactions between the real world and the magical one. Though there are occasional scenes of interesting lore, the lack of worldbuilding is apparent, and much of the series consists of bickering between family members, therapists, and friends. This quickly grows tired. Additionally, viewers will be quickly turned off by unfortunately poor acting that is bland at best and completely laughable at worst. The dialogue does the actors no favors, with marvelously memeable lines like “We’re on ice so thin, we’re practically a margarita” and “Don’t feel your feelings. Eat them.” The acting in the show is par for the course for many young adult shows, but the root problem here is the writing. From the beginning scenes of the first episode, it’s clear that, whether it be forced expositional dialogue or cringe-worthy one-liners, eager watchers should lower their narrative expectations. 

As the shapeshifting ogre Mulgarath, Christian Slater is completely one-note. For a character as evil as he is supposed to be, there should be more obvious hints of angry and murderous propensities bubbling right under the surface. Instead, Slater’s performance usually reads as vaguely irritated, overly relying on his small degree of charm to manipulate those around him—with less than believable results.

In the original books, Jared and Simon are identical twins, and the series has inexplicably made them fraternal here, perhaps for ease of casting. Still, Daniels and Cottrell do bear a resemblance to one another and do the best they can with the dialogue (though Daniels almost always looks like he is stifling a laugh). The acting standout is Mychala Lee as Mallory, Jared and Simon’s fiery sister. With her naturalistic approach to the character, Lee elevates the less-than-stellar material with her portrayal of the emotionally unavailable eldest child. Another highlight is Momona Tamada as Jared’s friend Emiko, who perfectly captures the plight of being an outcast, and who incidentally has the best dialogue in the series. 

For a show about magical creatures, the visual effects for the non-human characters are quite primitive and, frankly, there are just not very many of them. Most of the faerie characters maintain a human appearance the majority of the time, therefore negating the need to do an abundance of effects work anyway. Creatures from the novels with unique, rich designs—goblins, dragons, and trolls, for example—have all been cut. This includes characters that played crucial roles in the original story, like the hobgoblin Hogsqueal, who is completely absent. In the show, the only two creatures that feature prominently are Mulgarath (who, again, is usually in a human form) and Thimbletack, Aunt Lucinda’s “imaginary” friend who lives in the wall of the estate. And even despite his narrative importance, Thimbletack really isn’t around that much, either.

This book series, with its rich visual prose and commitment to imagination, had a formative effect on many young readers in the mid-2000s. Its take on fantasy worlds and the possibility of magical creatures and communities waiting just outside offered a much-needed glimmer of hope and creativity to children’s media of the time. With Hollywood’s addiction to nostalgia bait and the successes of other (better) book-to-TV adaptations, it is hardly surprising that this series would be made for the small screen in 2024. Indeed, those who grew up with the novels are the perfect age to rediscover the stories and fall back in love with their favorite characters. Unfortunately, that is far from likely to happen here. It remains unfathomable that this bastardization of a beloved series has seen the light of day, at least in its current condition. In its haste to throw out the source material, the series isolates its fanbase, but doesn’t have enough strengths on its own to win over any new viewers. 

In an even more baffling move, the “end” of The Spiderwick Chronicles is presumably not the end at all. The last episode concludes with a cliffhanger, moving the story further away from the original ending and almost guaranteeing this series will remain unresolved forever, should Roku make the wise decision to cut their losses after this first outing. What will become of the show remains to be seen. But would-be viewers of Season 1 must be warned: stay far away. Between its distractingly bad dialogue and the tedious story, there is no magic to be seen here.

The Spiderwick Chronicles premieres April 19th on The Roku Channel. 

Josh Sharpe is the Entertainment Editor at BroadwayWorld. His other bylines include TheaterMania, Collider, and Paste Magazine, where he served as the TV intern. To hear about his thoughts about film, TV, and musical theatre, follow him @josh_sharpe22 on all socials.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin