Surprising people is the hardest task for a traditional sitcom to accomplish. Audiences are more than accustomed to the laugh track, the “will they or won’t they?” through-line and the set-up, punchline, and repeat style of comedy. The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are huge successes primarily because of this familiarity. Plenty of television comedies take more risks, but they do so by abandoning the standard tropes of the genre and exploring different formats.
FEARnet’s Holliston is something truly unique: a show that, in many ways, follows in the footsteps of traditional sitcoms while still having an identity all its own.
The first television program ever made by FEARnet draws directly from the experiences of director Adam Green (Hatchet, Frozen), who plays an exaggerated version of himself.
Everyone in the cast is “making fun of themselves at the time in their life when they were struggling,” Green said, commenting on the entire principal cast members retaining their actual names when in character.
And that struggle is really what it’s all about, as the show follows the story of Adam Green and Joe Lynch, two aspiring horror filmmakers failing to break out of their hometown of Holliston, Mass., the small neighborhood from which Green hails.
To call this a passion project would be an understatement. Green, who directed, wrote and starred in every episode, “didn’t sleep more than an hour and a half to two hours a night during production.”
His dedication shows: Holliston is exactly what he wants it to be, an earnest sitcom for mature audiences, with an over-dramatic “oohing” and “ahhing” laugh track one minute, and a reference to the movie Scanners — complete with a violently exploding head — the next.
The tone is consistent, but the content featured is wildly bizarre, nothing more so than Green’s imaginary friend Oderus Urungus, an alien played by the lead of satirical heavy metal band GWAR, who resides in his closet and emerges about once an episode to give unhelpful advice.
It’s the kind of thing no network in its right mind would ever greenlight.
Luckily for Green and company, FEARnet is in the unique position of not having anything else to compare it to; for its first show it wanted to “do the unexpected.” In that respect, the show certainly succeeded.
At the very least, no one will accuse Green, company and the network of being unwilling to take chances when they see Green pine for his lost love Corri then, when spurned, bloodily gash his chest with a straight razor, all brightly lit in front of a standard three camera set-up.
The astounding thing about Holliston is that it’s likely to alienate some audiences while winning over others, although absolutely none of it is particularly tongue-in-cheek.
“This isn’t a parody of a sitcom,” Green clarified. “It’s a sitcom.”
It just happens to be a very unique one that, despite its subject matter, isn’t solely for horror fans.
Some test screenings have targeted viewers of the aforementioned currently popular sitcoms to see if Green’s world translates, and apparently it does. This makes sense, considering The Big Bang Theory viewers likely miss a good deal of that show’s references to what might be called “nerd culture.”
Holliston takes it further, making references so obscure yet naturally integrated that no one could doubt for a second the creative forces behind the camera — many of whom in this case are also in front of the camera — are outsiders looking in.
Rather, they’re celebrating the horror-loving lifestyle that they’re entirely a part of.
But the central themes of Holliston have nothing to do with fear or the grotesque. Instead the show is a celebration of Green’s beliefs.
“No matter what life throws at you, if you don’t let it change who you are and disenchant you, it will get better,” Green said.
The very existence of this series, which has existed conceptually in some form or another for 13 years now, is “living proof that if you don’t give up it can happen.” So similar to what’s already out there, yet so assured of its own identity, there’s nothing on the air quite like Holliston.
Holliston premieres April 3 at 7:30 p.m. on FEARnet.