Here’s how one character addresses another’s worries about potential danger on occult action-comedy Crazyhead: “I was born careful. I popped out my mom’s cooch like, ‘safety first.’” Think of the Netflix show as like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but a lot raunchier than Sunnydale’s Scooby Gang ever was.
More than a decade after it went off the air, the influence of Joss Whedon’s high-school-set, demon-slaying TV series can be felt far and wide in today’s nerd culture landscape. Crazyhead clearly has some Buffy DNA at work in its genetic code but what makes the British-sourced Netflix show intriguing is how and when it diverges from the Whedon Formula.
In the series’ first episode, a young woman named Amy finds out that the hallucinations she’s been taking medication for are in fact actual, honest-to-Satan demons. Amy’s guide into this strange new reality is Raquel, who also sees the demons, but still has much to learn about the rules and consequences of necromancy. Raquel and Amy both start exhibiting supernatural powers of their own as the series rolls on; Raquel explodes with uncontrollable bursts of telekinesis when she’s stressed while Amy starts having precognitive visions of things that will happen in the near future.
Crazyhead lives in the same dryly self-aware, action-comedy space as the Buffy TV show but diverges from that series’ formula by downplaying any sort of melodrama. In true repressed British fashion, the characters avoid talking directly about their desires or problems. Sure, this happened on Buffy too but those avoidant silences served as a build-up to explosive reckonings after things couldn’t be contained anymore. Crazyhead doesn’t have eruptions like, say, Angel turning evil again. There are dramatic reveals but their exposure and the characters’ reactions to them are less bombastic and more down to earth, as is Crazyhead’s approach to lore and character.
I’m not at all a Whovian but I’ve ambiently absorbed enough Doctor Who information to comfortably say that Crazyhead feels connected to the tradition of scruffy, under-budgeted British science-fiction television. It’s not trying to dazzle you with effects or epic sweep. It’s aiming for snickering laughter and stinging tears to accompany all the monster-killing. The smaller cast of characters and tighter mythology lend a loopy, drunken coziness to the show. Like Buffy, Crazyhead offers up monster-killing mixed with endearing awkwardness and blunt candor. It’s less concerned with being a metaphor for the existential dilemmas faced by women but that doesn’t hurt it.
I enjoyed the barroom and bathroom humor that Crazyhead weaves into its approach to necromancy. When Amy finds out that best friend Suzanne has a demon inside her, Raquel tells her that she needs to pee on her BFF as part of the exorcism ritual. I cringed and laughed when the show offered up the fact that dudes who are possessed ejaculate cold semen as a handy clue for demon detection. In stark contrast to that, there are surprisingly tender characterizations that pop up in Crazyhead. Raquel is socially maladroit and Amy is a little more well-adjusted but still prone to blurting out things that should remain private and screwing up exchanges with people. I especially liked how neither Amy nor Raquel feels like the main character of Crazyhead. The spotlight pleasantly swings from one to another; at no point does either woman come across as the other’s sidekick. They and most of the protagonists we meet yearn for purpose or connection with other people but they simply don’t know how to manage it. One of the defter turns that the show makes is in making the main bad guy a psychotherapist. He gaslights both Amy and Raquel and condescends to other demons about controlling their rage so their freakish appearances don’t break through the illusory glamour that makes them look normal.
This show also taps into of-the-moment energy in the way that Buffy did so well, not so much by way of pop cultural references but more in how the characters’ interactions play out. Amy has to deal with a male friend who wants to more than just friends while Raquel learns to peel away the protective rough exterior that shields her from the insanity of demon hunting.
At the heart of it all, the ups and downs of Amy and Raquel’s fragile new friendship remain Crazyhead’s main draw. These girls are slightly older than Buffy Summers and her friends were, so nightclubs and terrible bowling alley jobs replace high school auditoriums as the social spaces where they hang out. They’ve both felt like outcasts and desperately want people they can share their whole selves with, but the young women go back and forth on whether they can trust one another.
By the end of the six-episode first season, Amy and Raquel have embraced each other and their shared purpose of demon-killing, setting the stage for more rude, salty adventures. The balance of low-key occultism, potty humor, and believable emotional turmoil makes for a winning formula that has me wishing that Netflix brings more Crazyhead across the pond very soon.