'Friday the 13th: The Series': An Introduction.
Once upon a time, there was a magical decade known as The 80’s. For those grew up during this era, like me, it was a glorious time where Jason Voorhees had a new movie in theaters almost every year, people drank Ecto Cooler while wearing skinny keyboard ties without hipster irony, all your school notes were safely secured in your Trapper Keeper, and Rick Astley was never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. However, on October 3, 1987, the 80’s got even better when Friday The 13th: The Series debuted to an unsuspecting television audience. Though the series itself has no direct connection to the movies and Jason Voorhees, it wasn’t like anything else on television – creepy, gory, suspenseful, unique, and way ahead of its time.
Frank Mancuso Jr. (producer of several of the Friday films) and Larry B. Williams created the series, originally titled “The 13th Hour”, but Mancuso believed there would be a bigger audience for the series if they utilized the franchise name to capitalize on the success of the films. In the pilot episode, “The Inheritance”, we meet distant cousins Micki Foster (Louise Robey, billed only as Robey, sort of like Madonna or Cher) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay, who played Steven in Jason Goes to Hell), who have inherited an antique store from their late Uncle Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong). Though neither knew Uncle Lewis, they learn his dastardly secret – he sold his soul to Satan in exchange for wealth, immortality, and magical powers; in return, he sold cursed antiques that would bring darkness to the world. When he broke the deal he made with the devil, he was dragged to Hell. Now Micki and Ryan, aided by older, wiser Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins as the Giles to Micki and Ryan’s Buffy) must retrieve all of the cursed items from their owners and return them safely to the vault of Curious Goods.
Though set in America, the show was filmed in Canada with an average budget of $500,000 per episode. It aired in first-run syndication, mostly late at night (in my small town, it was WPIX Channel 11, anywhere between midnight and 2 a.m. on Friday nights). As the series gained cult popularity, it began to air at earlier, more family-friendly times; this caused conservative groups (you know, the same people who worry that Tinky Winky in Teletubbies may be gay) to campaign for the show’s cancellation. Though the violence would be considered tame by television standards now, it was graphic for the time, and the show was unceremoniously canceled after three successful seasons and 72 episodes. The final episode aired on May 26, 1990.
Friday the 13th: The Series was made by people who loved to tell scary stories. Each episode was filled with its own folklore and history, helping to paint vivid and creative storylines. To see what the writers, actors, directors, and crew created on a low-budget is nothing short of incredible. It may be a show with carnage, bloodshed, and evil antiques, but it was a huge happy part of my childhood, as was Jason himself; and, in the end, it is actually a show about good triumphing over evil and doing the right thing even when walking away would be much easier. I guess the conservative groups didn’t get that message.
But how can I experience the glory and wonder of this show?, you may ask. It’s on Amazon Prime for free, and I highly encourage you to watch it. The DVD set is also available, but be warned – the show was shot on video and does not have the polished look of today’s programs. Some of the special effects are slightly outdated (as are the fashions and haircuts), but computer technology (and CGI) wasn’t as advanced then as it is now. In fact, the show was nominated for two Emmy Awards, in 1988 and 1989, for Visual and Graphic Effects. There is an outstanding book by Alyse Wax entitled Curious Goods, which is a comprehensive look at the making of the series. It’s well worth a purchase, written with great joy and affection for the series.
In future columns, I’ll be looking at different aspects of the show, including the other t.v. programs it influenced, the cursed antiques themselves, storylines and key episodes, Micki’s ever-growing hair, and character development. In the meantime, grab your Rick Astley comforter and spot on the couch and let your Friday the 13th: The Series marathon begin.