Horror and sci-fi fans know the pain of hearing their favorite entertainment dismissed as “kid’s stuff.” It’s ironic, however, just how good genre movies and shows aimed at kids tend to be. As we’ve learned from E.T. and The Tomorrow People, when handled smartly, children’s genre fare can hold its own. In the case of Hulu’s Endlings, it can even breathe new life in the world of TV family melodramas.
CREATOR: J.J. Johnson
Believable family dynamics and majestic creature designs help ‘Endlings’ become an addictive sci-fi treat for the whole family.
Set in the year 2040, Endlings’ future is similar to the one our society is on track to experience. Smart homes are part of a healthy life; drones are everywhere, animals are rapidly going extinct, and there are still too many children who need homes. Thankfully, there are people like Mr. Leopold, a kind foster parent whose farm has become a haven for kids in the system. There’s the oldest, Johnny (Edison Grant); the youngest, Finn (Cale Ferrin), a sweet, quiet boy living with Fanconi Anemia; and junior mad scientist Tabby (Michela Luci).
The newest member of the family is Julia (Kamaia Fairburn), an orphan who runs away from every foster home that’s taken her in. Julia immediately tries to leave, but Mr. Leopold’s kindness convinces her to give the place a try. There’s already enough here for a solid series—then the aliens appear.
Due to a freak accident, an alien science ship crash lands on Mr. Leopold’s farm, setting free endangered species from around the universe in the process. It’s up to the kids and Mr. Leopold to capture the aliens before they hurt someone or get discovered by a sinister secret corporation.
Based on that synopsis, Endlings could be any number of kids shows, but don’t be so quick to write it off. Rather than using this as a set up for a mindless action series, Endlings’ tone is closer to high concept sci-fi-like Dr. Who. For every concession to Saturday morning action tropes it embraces, like blasters, it adds something unexpected, like plotlines that deal with grief.
While hunting down aliens with alien blasters is about as much fun as a kid can have, our heroes are still kids living through rough lives. Julia’s parents are dead, Johnny faced trauma that gets explored later in the season, Finn has a life-altering condition, and Tabby’s mother is unable to care for her.
Between adventures, we see these kids learn painful lessons about growing up that rarely make appearances in “kids” programming. In many ways, it brings to mind another Canadian series, Degrassi, where soapy plots lived alongside real-life lessons. Here the experiences help our heroes survive alien attacks rather than high school ones.
A show like this lives and dies on the creature design. The content is far too heavy for little kids, and early tweens raised on video games can be a tough audience. Endlings knocks the monster designs out of the park. No matter what flavor of creature you favor, you’ll find yourself smiling at one point or another. We get massive space hulks, bioluminescent flying Cthulhu stingrays, sandworms, and even a space unicorn.
Given the budget limitations of teen TV shows, I didn’t go in expecting much, but Endlings features majestic creature design. Yes, it’s often clearly CGI, but each pixel is lovingly created with a mind towards realism, even if it’s hyper-realism. These creatures are often terrifying to imagine, but the show never treats them as evil. Instead, they’re endangered creatures who need rescuing from the strange world they’ve crash-landed on.
Over the first season, viewers explore everything from childhood abuse to environmental conservation, albeit from a youth-friendly lens. Endlings handles its messages with maturity and care. More adult themes are subtle, making for natural conversations among parents and tweens without cluing in younger viewers.
Occasionally, the show falls victim to cheesy sentimentality, but more often than not, it’s remarkable just how little it condescends to its audience. Serious issues are raised and addressed, with more profound mysteries planted through each episode that requires close viewing. What is the biomechanical nature of the ship they find? How long has the mysterious corporation been searching for the aliens? What happens if they get their hands on one? It’s thrilling, even as an adult without children, and annoying that there are only twelve episodes.
All too often, young adult sci-fi becomes about who can make the biggest explosion or catch the most monsters. Endlings is part of a tradition of smart, thoughtful sci-fi that’s fit for the whole family in the culture of The Tomorrow People, The Secret World of Alex Mack, an early Doctor Who. It’s the sort of show parents will look forward to watching with their kids, with incredible potential for conversations afterward.
Finn, in particular, stands out, thanks to an incredible performance by Cale Ferrin, who has Fanconi anemia in real life. He’s included in every adventure, fights alongside his siblings, and serves as the heart of the show. It’s exciting to see a representation of special needs kids in an action series, but even more refreshing to watch them fight with the best of them.
Parents looking for a smart genre show full of thrilling action, and real characters should immediately add Endlings to the family watch list. Just don’t be shocked if your kids ask you to help them build blaster arms once you’re done with the first season.