“Freakish” is a silly, lightweight half-hour, somewhere between horror thriller and teen soap, about what happens to the already fraught social dynamics of a high school when the chemical plant in the town explodes and everyone exposed to the gas starts, well, eating other people. The 20-odd kids who aren’t exposed bunker down in the shuttered, dark high school as the post-apocalypse wages around them. Because they are teenagers, the drama is as much focused on survival strategies as it is on clique warfare; romantic liaisons, strategic alliances, and long-buried strife come into play, with tedious inevitability.
If you like teen soaps, you might like a teen soap infected with zombies. If you like low-budget zombies, you might like seeing the genre twisted through the soapy lens of a teen drama. But if neither of those sound appealing, “Freakish” has nothing to offer.
The show never quite becomes interesting enough to transcend either the dully predictable beats of zombie horror or the plodding angst of young adulthood. And though there is a place, in the month of October, for low-budget horror that is not trying very hard at all to be much of anything, “Freakish” lacks even the campy appeal of a show reveling in its own silliness. The zombies are taken very, very seriously — in one of the season’s first big plot arcs, a boy must consider killing his infected twin sister. The teen drama is also taken very, very seriously — one of the girls hoarding canned food turns out to be secretly eight months pregnant (and hiding it very well). The high schoolers’ little conspiracies and secrets are stultifying, their romances devoid of passion. The only character who seems to be aware of the humor in their predicament is the adult coach (Chad L. Coleman) — who is eaten alive before the end of the first episode.
If “Freakish” had committed to far fewer characters, it might have perhaps been able to make sense of the leftover plotlines. As it is, the half-hour is overstuffed with characters it can’t carry — each with secretive subplots that the actors also cannot carry. In the first few episodes, a brooding female character (Liza Koshy) is revealed to have a background in explosives, and it’s difficult to tell if that revelation is supposed to be shocking, terrifying, or just funny. Perhaps the audience is expected to be disappointed in the high school’s surprisingly lax discipline for bomb-makers? But in any case, mild disinterest is probably not what the show was going for.