There is something immensely appealing about anyone who is (a) happy to subvert established tropes and sensibilities and (b) who does it flair, imagination and a willingness to challenge established ideas and remake them in their own image.
Or even better, cook them.
Christine McConnell, the royal icing-pumping star of Netflix’s latest breakout hit, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, has ghoulishly stylish appeal aplenty, her combination of innocent ’50s glamour, Halloween proclivities and frosted creativity proving there are “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and thankfully one of them, for those of us that crave the quirky and the different, is this remarkable lady.
A totally self-taught chef, pastry cook, sewer and sculptor with a wicked eye for the twisted mainstream, McConnell’s all-too-quickly-consumed six-episode first season is a fabulously dark melange of The Addams Family, Sweeney Todd, Martha Stewart, The Muppet Show and one of those sitcoms from the ’60s featuring nosy neighbours like I Dream of Jeannie.
Quite apart from the gloriously well-executed preoccupation with werewolves, resurrected corpses, spider webs, haunted houses and monsters in the basement, what sets McConnells’ sweetly-morbid lifestyle show apart is the narrative thread that runs through it like a luxurious flow of melted cooking sugar.
This is not simply a show that has a few scripted elements, giving itself in the main to its instructional elements, but one which goes to great, highly-successful lengths to weave in vividly hilarious characters, a narrative arc with villains and suspect objects of romantic involvement and to challenge our ideas at each and every turn.
For instance, in the third episode, “The Dinner Date”, in which McConnell makes donuts shaped like wolf claws to take to her grandmother who loves them, the expectation, even after two episodes in which we’ve met her comedically fractious occult-happy household, is that she is a devoted granddaughter off to visit a lovely, sweet family member.
Oh grandma is sweet all right but – SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, I’ll wait while you avert your eyes (though, like me, you’ll find doing that with this show near impossible, likely bingeing all six episodes in one sugar rush hit – she’s very dead, the catch-up is being held at the grave side where a zombie-like hand reaches up through the perfectly-manicured lawn to partake in the exquisitely-created donuts and a generous serve of accompanying brandy.
To add to the gently-served but potently off-kilter subversion, it’s here that McConnell, whose decor is all gothic horror meets ’50s homemaker extraordinaire, meets the possible love of her life, Norman (Adam Mayfield) who’s there to visit his grandmother, has a serial-killer way with knives despite his gee-whiz nerd persona and who, as one of McConnell’s unorthodox housemates, werewolf Edgar (Mick Ignis) observes, smell of fresh blood … A LOT.
What makes these plot twists so strangely delightful is that McConnell never once makes a big thing of them – there are no dramatic pauses for us to appreciate the cleverness or over-acting to accent the pleasing weirdness; these narrative winks and nudges are simply part of the haunted furnishings and treat as part of her very different, happily-nightmarish world in which makes treats for neighbours (scary candles anyone?), Ginger Dead Houses and family and acceptance are very part of the left-of-centre norm.
Quite deliberately you suspect, McConnell, whose castmates are Henson creations through-and-through, has gone out of her way to champion the sorts of values that feels epitomised her favourite decade – the 1950s.
Which is why Curious Creations features a family group who may not be your usual cast of warm-and-fuzzy suburban denizens but who are as close and supportive, and affectionately argumentative as any family.
There is the aforementioned Edgar who is dopily sweet and adorable, artistically-inclined and who is fine as long as you bring any raw flesh into his vicinity, and Rose (Colleen Smith), a reanimated Frankenstein-ish raccoon made up of many parts who loves to be a fairy batwing princess but is also loudmouthed, sweet tooth gluttonous, as apart to have raunchy relations with a garden gnome as the neighbourhood dogs, and will burn the house if she thinks her birthday has been forgotten.
Rounding out the family photo with some wonderfully jagged edges is Rankle (Michael Oosterom), a resurrected ancient Egyptian mummified cat, still with wraps in place, who has a distinctly god-like mentality and a wicked way with Rose putdowns, Bernard, a monster who lives in the basement and who has a, ahem, thing for the legs of mail ladies and Vivienne (Dita Von Teese), a dead woman who lives in the mirrors of Christine’s home and who emerges once a year at Halloween to re-enter the world.
Macabre and more than a little comfortable with various forms of torture and the dark arts they may all be but what makes McConnell’s weird little brood of lovable misfits such a joy to watch is they are a family, they care for each other, caustic oneliners notwithstanding and they give narrative form to the most imaginative cooking/sewing/sculpting lifestyle you’ll have likely ever seen.
While it’s possible only the most patient and dedicated of McConnell’s viewers and the over 400,000 people who follow her every gothically idiosyncratic move on Instagram will ever make any of her creations, there is a particular joy in watching her slowly build a cake-based replica of her gothic mansion or construct a dress with an ease that those of us without those skills will find utterly absorbing.
Part of the charm is McConnell’s sublimely-perfect, idealistic presentation where not a hair is out of place, dresses fit to an immaculate tee and even her voice modulates in a range that is soothing and friendly in a way that suggests she is your very best friend and will always be so, but more than that is the overall look and feel of the show which is creepy yes but in a way that reassures you that at its heart, it’s all bout belonging, being loved, and yes, eating food so artfully-constructed that slicing into it feels like some sort of crime against a whimsically-dark aesthetic.
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is such a treat on so many levels that bingeing it is ridiculously easy – you will be beguiled by artistry so beautiful it will make you wish you were housemates with Edgar, Rose and Rankle, be swept up in the warmth and love of a dysfunctionally functional family but most importantly, be able to take a trip to the dark side without leaving your couch, which for the fainthearted among us, is the absolute best of both worlds.