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In the Dark Reviews

'Dead Boy Detectives' misses details, but still fun

It looks like Forks won't be the only corner of the Olympic Peninsula to gain fame from a supernatural entertainment franchise, given the critical and audience acclaim that Netflix's "Dead Boy Detectives" have garnered since all eight episodes of their first season began streaming April 25.

The original "Dead Boy Detectives" were co-created by writer Neil Gaiman for his DC Comics Vertigo imprint series, "The Sandman," and just as Netflix began adapting that 75-issue, 1989-96 comic book title with an 11-episode first season in 2022, so too have its youthful deceased sleuths, Charles Rowland and Edwin Payne, just become part of Net-flix's "Sandman" shared onscreen universe.

More locally significant, just as the "Twilight" vampire fantasy franchise started by Stephenie Meyer put the town of Forks on the map of pop culture consciousness, so too did Netflix elect to set the first season of its "Dead Boy Detectives" streaming series in Port Townsend.

Those who live and work in Port Townsend will quickly spot that the series was not filmed in their hometown. Shooting took place in the city of Langley, a municipality in the Metro Vancouver Regional District of British Columbia, although the show's frequently mist-shrouded cinematography at least makes an effort to conceal the fact that, by population alone, Langley is three times the size of Port Townsend's 10,000 inhabitants.

In its fidelity to its comic book source material and its ostensible real-world geographical setting, "Dead Boy Detectives" is most enjoyable if you don't think about it too hard. As TV adaptations of Gaiman go, it's closer to the glossy but frivolous "Lucifer" than to the operatic and contemplative "Sandman," but some touches make me wonder whether its divergences from the real-life Port Townsend might be intended as inside jokes for those who know the town.

For example, its fourth episode, "The Case of the Lighthouse Leapers," features the cinematic concept of people feeling compelled to plummet to their deaths from atop the Point No Point Lighthouse.

This is fittingly Nautical Gothic for a series that's essentially a collection of literal ghost stories, except that anyone who's seen the Point No Point Lighthouse knows that, while taking a tumble over its top railing could result in an ambulance ride, it's still low enough to the ground that one could conceivably walk off such a fall.

Likewise, in its fifth episode, "The Case of the Two Dead Dragons," no mention is made of the Chimacum, Quilcene or Brinnon school districts, but apparently, in Netflix's "Sandman" universe, Port Townsend itself is big enough to warrant two rival high schools, one of which we're told is located in "North Port Townsend," which is every bit as absurd as "South Detroit" in Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," for the same geographical reasons.

These nitpicks make it sound like I harbor a much harsher opinion of "Dead Boy Detectives" than the show warrants, because while it falls into the all-too-familiar pattern of using coastal Canada to substitute for Washington, on the grounds they share climate and geography, Langley's urban backdrop comes closer than most generic Canadian locales would to capturing something of Port Townsend's well-preserved Victorian seaport character.

Moreover, the curio shop stocked with magical artifacts owned by "Tragic Mick" (Michael Beach), a former walrus cursed to live as a human, feels like it would fit right in on Water Street in downtown Port Townsend, as would the Tongue and Tail butcher shop's setup of apartments for rent above its storefront, even if butcher shop owner Jenny (Briana Cuoco) is a bit overly aggro for a community as low-key as PT.

Perhaps more importantly, after "Twilight" used the damp climate of the state's coasts and rainforests to justify its washed-out-looking maudlin melodrama, "Dead Boy Detectives" tilts the scales in the opposite direction, by drawing from Gaiman's juxtapositions of antiquated myth with contemporary culture, in ways that recall the random, consensus reality-defying paranormal phenomena of David Lynch's "Twin Peaks," and which I'd argue feel appropriate to Port Townsend's quirky charms.

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Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

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Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
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