‘Chucky’ is back for season 3 — and proves why it’s the best long-running horror franchise

Chucky TV show
(Image credit: Syfy)

When Don Mancini came up with the idea for the 1988 horror movie “Child’s Play,” there’s no way he could have imagined that he’d still be creating new adventures for Chucky the killer doll nearly 40 years later. 

Where to stream 'Chucky'

"Chucky" seasons 1-3 are streaming on Peacock

The astonishing durability of the Chucky franchise, following the same continuity under the same creative voice for multiple decades, is unmatched by any other major horror series, and what’s even more impressive is that the quality remains just as consistent.

Mancini’s vision has persisted across seven movies and the TV series “Chucky,” which premieres the second half of its third season this week, with episodes airing on USA and Syfy and streaming on Peacock. This season of “Chucky” represents another new height for Mancini’s creation, as Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) has infiltrated the White House and taken possession of the nuclear codes. The cute little doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer has positioned himself to potentially start World War III.

'Chucky' season 3 reaches new levels of craziness

That’s just one of the many plot threads picked up in these four jam-packed new episodes, which also make time for the show’s expansive supporting cast. “Chucky” began by introducing a trio of teen characters as an entry point for new viewers, but the show has only improved as it’s gotten more bonkers, bringing in characters and plot elements from past “Child’s Play” movies and taking the story into the realm of the completely absurd. 

Teenagers Jake (Zackary Arthur), Devon (Björgvin Arnarson) and Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind) are still the central characters, but they’ve long since left their basic high school existence behind, becoming full-time warriors in the battle against Chucky.

In "Chucky" season 3, that means they too have to infiltrate the White House, where Chucky has been posing as “Joseph,” the beloved doll of the President’s young son. Chucky’s motivations for setting himself up in the heart of the American government involve a falling-out with the voodoo god Damballa, who’s provided all of Chucky’s various soul transfers since he was the human serial killer Charles Lee Ray. As the latest episodes begin, Chucky looks more like the Crypt Keeper than his former cherubic self, and he’s being pushed around in an old-timey wheelchair.

He’s still as snarky and spirited as ever, taking shots at fellow horror-movie dolls M3GAN and Brahms and gleefully killing his way through the executive branch. To appease Damballa, he needs to increase his body count exponentially, and the new episodes feature some of the series’ gnarliest kill scenes. 

But Chucky is a horror icon because he’s not just a mindless killer like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. He’s surprisingly endearing and complex, and the new episodes of “Chucky” delve even deeper into his psyche, with Dourif showing up onscreen to play the aged Charles Lee Ray.

The cast of 'Chucky' is up for anything

Chucky TV show cast

(Image credit: Syfy)

One of the biggest strengths of “Chucky” and the “Child’s Play” movies is how eager the stars are to return to their roles, and Jennifer Tilly continues her career-best work as Tiffany Valentine, Chucky’s former lover and fellow serial killer who was previously a doll but has spent years inhabiting the body of actress Jennifer Tilly. 

As Tiffany sits on death row, Tilly plays her as the world’s most cheerful homicidal maniac, with her convoluted personal identity as part of the character’s appealing ridiculousness. Even as Chucky schemes to destroy the world, Tiffany’s subplots remain the show’s highlights.

In what has become a “Chucky” tradition, Devon Sawa takes on his fifth separate character in these latest episodes, adding to his portrayal of U.S. President James Collins. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how child actress Carina London Battrick has stepped up as Lexy’s younger sister Caroline, who’s become Chucky’s devoted protégé and brings her own delightfully demented energy to the show. Her brief appearances lead up to a completely unhinged season finale featuring guest star John Waters, setting up a potentially even more deranged fourth season.

'Chucky' is a landmark horror achievement

The ability of “Chucky” to get even more deranged over time is what makes it such a thrill to watch, and that’s a testament to Mancini’s brilliant, enduring creative vision. Amid the over-the-top violence and snide humor, Mancini also delivers a tender queer romance between Jake and Devon, as well as a meditation on grief for the Collins family, who lost a son to cancer. There are explicit homages to classic movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Apocalypse Now,” and also a running “Call Me By Your Name” reference between Jake and Devon.

It’s understandable for audiences to be skeptical about a TV series based on a 1980s horror movie, but “Chucky” and the “Child’s Play” franchise as a whole represent a remarkable achievement in long-form storytelling, featuring one of the greatest characters in horror history. Chucky may have started out as a goofy murderous doll, but “Chucky” is clever, funny, scary, audacious and even moving — it’s easily one of the best shows on TV.

More from Tom's Guide

Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.