Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Jordan Rubin's Critters: A New Binge

Cody binges on a long-awaited franchise revival.

The Critters franchise has been dormant for over twenty-five years, a fact which I find to be insane. This concept should have been revived a long time ago, even if its reason for going dormant was understandable: the last entry in the series, 1992's Critters 4, was not only poorly received, but it also completely wrapped up the story. There's no room for a modern day addition to the existing timeline because the only existing "Critters" were in a tube floating through space between 1992 and 2045. Any new film would have to disregard the information given in Critters 3 and 4.

That's exactly what Zombeavers director Jordan Rubin's eight-part web series Critters: A New Binge does. The Critters, actually an alien species called Crites, are finally back in a story that doesn't directly reference any of the films, other than to acknowledge that the Critters were on Earth sometime in the 1980s (the first Critters was released in 1986). It also tells us that there were Critters on Earth when the calendar flipped over from 1999 to 2000, so there goes 3 and 4 out the window.

A lot of fans are understandably happy and excited to see the Crites back in action after their long absence, but I think there's going to be a split reaction to A New Binge. I don't think the story crafted by Rubin and his co-writers Al Kaplan and Jon Kaplan is one that anybody was expecting to see told in this franchise.

While the Crites are ravenously hungry little animals, basically "space porcupines" that roll around eating whatever they can get their mouths on, we have also seen them pilot space ships and occasionally communicate with each other through subtitled dialogue. Rubin and his collaborators lean heavily into the latter depiction of these creatures, packing the series with scene after scene of Critters talking and plotting with each other. This time they're not just coming to Earth to have fun and eat, they're on an official mission that is of great importance to the future of their civilization. They're presented as if they're an infiltrating army; this crew of Crites has a captain and reports back to their president, who wears a suit and has a translation device that allows him to speak English. They even try to control their hunger, opting to tie people up or capture them in nets. But they're not successful at holding back on eating things for very long.

With shape-shifting bounty hunters on their trail, as usual, the Crites are heading to the town of Livingston, Iowa in search of a hybrid creature that was created through an interspecies hook-up during one of the Crites' previous trips to Earth. This mission puts them on a collision course with Livingston local Veronica Stewart (Kirsten Robek) and her teenage son Christopher (Joey Morgan of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse).

A New Binge is going to be off-putting to a lot of viewers right from the start with its organized, talkative Crites, and those who can go along with it will face another challenge when they realize where the story is going. Its destination becomes obvious in an early episode, even though I was really hoping it wouldn't go there. This is not something I would have ever guessed would be added into Critters lore, and isn't something I wanted to see. But this web series felt the need to show it to me.

The Critters movies always had a goofy sense of humor, and the humorous element is enhanced in a major way in this revival. This is the most irreverent and silly installment yet, purely a cartoonish comedy. It's hard to reconcile the events of this story with the Crite stories we've seen before, but those events do fit within the unique tone that this one has. This is the type of show that will toss a random parody of The Matrix into the middle of an action scene, twenty years too late, or put a type of Crite we've never seen before into the climactic sequence just for one dopey sight gag. To enjoy A New Binge, fans will have to meet it on its own terms. Although the show relies on viewers having a familiarity with Crites, it's not out to give them something like what they've seen before. This is the concept with a large amount of extra absurdity added to it.

I had a bit of trouble handling this level of absurdity. I was amused by some of it, while also cringing and shaking my head at some of it, wishing throughout that Rubin hadn't taken this approach to the material. There is some fun to be had with A New Binge, though, and I was especially happy to see Gilbert Gottfried and Thomas Lennon (who recently fought a different type of tiny terror in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich) in the cast. Critters: A New Binge may not have been the franchise revival I wanted it to be, but I am grateful that it gave me the chance to see Gottfried (as Christopher's Viagra-obsessed uncle) and Lennon (as a high school principal) share the screen with Crites.

And even though A New Binge takes the franchise in a direction I didn't want it to go in, it still comes off as a very innocuous piece of entertainment. It's tough to take it seriously in any way; it's not likely there's going to be a follow-up that will continue delving into the story Rubin and Kaplan introduced here. In fact, Syfy has already produced their own Critters movie that will surely be as separate from A New Binge as A New Binge is from Critters 3 and 4. If this were the only new entry in the franchise we were getting, if there wasn't something different following close on its heels and I thought the series might continue down this path, I would not be happy. But that's not the scenario we're in, so this is just a goofy little side story that's good for some laughs.

A New Binge was produced for Verizon's now defunct mobile video service go90, so it's a low budget production that was intended to be watched on smart phones. The eight episodes are quite short, and if you chopped the intro and credits off most of the episodes you'd end up with a feature film that would probably run just under 70 minutes. So it doesn't demand much of your time. If you're a fan of the Crites, it's worth watching, and there will be fans who will love what Rubin did here.

The web series is available for viewing on the Shudder streaming service, and I'm glad they decided to give A New Binge a new home after go90 shut down.

And yes, rest assured that a Crite who had previously visited Earth in the '80s does have the opportunity to catch up with the modern world by checking out some internet porn.

This review originally appeared on

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