Tv Review: Julie And The Phantoms Season 1 Episode 1

Julie and the phantoms s1e1 indexThis brand new family sitcom from Netflix isn’t the kind of thing we normally cover on the site, but given that it has a fantastical element to it and is also a musical comedy I went in hoping it might be my cup of tea. It doesn’t start off too badly either, beginning in the mid-nineties where we’re subjected to a song from an up and coming band called Sunset Curve (Charlie Gillespie, Jeremy Shada, Owen Joyner) who are playing a soundcheck and it sounds like every bland but vaguely fun Britpop band from the mid-nineties bar that they’re American.

They’re pretty cheesy fellas too, and high on potential fame, but before we know it they’re killed by a bit of food poisoning thanks to some dodgy hot dogs? Hmmmm, seemingly so, and thus we skip forward to 2020, though as this was made prior to the pandemic this is an alternative world where everything isn’t horrible and shit. There’s a shift in location too as we’re now in a Los Angeles school where vague nerd Julie (Madison Reyes) is mocked by the popular kids, and back at home we learn she’s got a dead mum, a supportive father, and a loft full of musical instruments where she discovers an old cd from Sunset Curve. Intrigued she plays it, and before we know it – they’re back, in pog, sorry, I mean ghost form!

Soon it’s revealed that they’ve no idea where the past twenty five years have gone, but don’t seem that bothered about such a fact, and we discover that no one apart from Julie can see them.  These pesky ghosts can still play their old instruments however, which means the rest of the world can hear them and though that’s about all that happens in the pilot it’s heavily signposted that it probably won’t be long before Julie’s playing in a band with them, and, um, maybe they’ll just wear bed sheets so that no one knows they’re incorporeal beings?

It’s a very glossy, daft affair and the ghosts come to terms with their undead status extremely quickly (though there is a nicely odd gag about them briefly spending time in a mysterious dark room where one of them cried a lot), and some of the hijinks where people think Julie’s speaking to them but is actually chastising the ghosts is vaguely amusing. But the majority of it is bland in the extreme, especially the scenes set in the school, while Julie’s family are nice but dim and nothing more than that at all.

When it comes to the songs, this is a musical in the sense that various characters are either in a band or just like singing, and it’s not a traditional one where people burst in to song out of the blue and no one thinks that’s bloody weird, somewhat sadly. The one number we get from the soon to be dead fellas isn’t bad either, I mean, it’s not great, I wouldn’t have bought it back in the nineties when I even owned cds by bands like Symposium and Travis, but it’s a likeable enough effort. The other song in the pilot which Julie sings is your typical Katy Perry / Taylor Swift modern pop affair, and mysteriously our lead character is auto-tuned even though she belts it out in her home, and where the invisible drum machine is I couldn’t say either. If you like either of the above artists you probably won’t mind this, but um, well, yeah, it’s not for me.

That kind of applies to the series as a whole too. Of course I’m not the show’s target audience, but that shouldn’t always mean it’s not something I could also enjoy, a lot of family films work for everyone of all ages, my mother’s as huge a fan of Pixar movies and I am too, but family tv comedies often seem to only work for the fairly young and once again that’s the case here. It’s by no means bad, there’s the odd amusing moment, but I can only imagine some (very young, and oddly uncynical) teens liking it a great deal, but even then they might find some of it a bit by the numbers and predictable.

Anyone over the age of 13: ★★1/2
Anyone under the age of 13: ★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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