Just Beyond Seemed Like Such A Cool Show Idea
Just Beyond seemed like a delightful prospect. More Goosebumps-style anthology stuff, and similarly focusing on being scary for kids? Yes, please.
Sadly, Just Beyond proved to be a little different from what I expected. The fact it was on Disney+ should’ve been the tip-off that it would not be allowed to go even as far as Creeped Out managed. By the end of the second episode, it was clear this was more Twilight Zone than pure horror. I wasn’t expecting it to scare me regardless, but as a Halloween viewing, it was disappointing.
The other disappointing thing was the variety of quality. So much so that rather than talk about the whole show, I wanted to break down the three episodes I’ve seen and go over their strengths and weaknesses. They all fail and succeed in different ways.
“Leave Them Kids Alone.”
Starting strong, this episode does a phenomenal job of introducing its main character with very few lines of dialogue but then jumps into perhaps too much exposition. And this trend of doing something exceedingly clever only to have the plot become predictable again continues throughout the episode. This episode is the natural outcome if you mixed the classic Disney “be yourself” plot and one of Stine’s evil summer camp settings. The real benefits come in once the usual tropes are established and the acting and dialogue happen more organically. The actors, both old and young, do a great job and though the ending is abrupt, it’s a lot of fun. This marked a good beginning to the series, but it didn’t hold…
“Parents Are from Mars, Kids Are from Venus.”
This is a much worse episode than the first. The central premise and sort-of-allegory for and sort-of-direct exploration of puberty is done well enough. The early scenes are funny in a slightly awkward way, and it’s relatable to teens, if presented as bluntly as possible. But the comedy is hit or miss as it progresses. A few jokes don’t land, and one is outright objectionable.
It’s also here we see the limits of the budget. The special effects are awkward and cheesy. The tentacles only look realistic when we can barely see them. And that aspect would’ve been fine, special effects don’t make a story, if the plot held up—but it doesn’t. Pertinent and relevant plot questions never get answered or hinted at, and the twist is obvious. It’s by far the worst of the three and you can skip it. The actors played their roles fine, and the idea is fun, but it needed another draft. And with it out of the way, let’s get to a much more interesting episode…
What would’ve been a standard plot is elevated enormously by leaning into worldbuilding. This episode is trying to be an allegory for something. It’s covered in thinly veiled allusions to things like bigotry, culture shock, being part of a minority in America, and one’s relationship with their heritage. And I can’t speak to if that aspect of the episode was handled tactfully. But, taken literally as a story about magic and witches, it’s at least interesting, with a lot of creative background details. Here the unreal-looking CGI lends itself to the bombastic nature of witch magic, and the rubber toads and spiders are charming, rather than distracting. It has a solid Halloween vibe. Thinking too hard about how the world works (and its honestly quite dark aspects) will make it fall apart, but at least it’s engaging.
What helps is this is also the best acted of the episodes. The two female leads are standouts. They feel like real cousins and have a few nice scenes together. They sell what would’ve been a lot of absurd events and made the whole episode better than it had any right to be.
And that’s the first three episodes of Just Beyond. Like a lot of anthology shows, the quality is all over the map. I question why we got this and not more Goosebumps, but it’s mostly fine. It’s not the best of the subgenre, it’s not the worst. If you want something low-stress this Halloween, you could do worse than Just Beyond.
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