The Macabre Queer Genius of 'The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell'
It’s the sugar dusted goth cookery and crafts show of our dark little dreams
Camp, kooky, and crafty, The Curious Creations of Christine MConnell - the latest Netflix Originals cookery show to have emerged from the streaming behemoth’s currently culinary obsessed lineup - is well and truly something else. The show is a perfectly measured mix of The Munsters, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and Martha Stewart concocted in a madcap Jim Henson kitchen. It’s a Nigella Lawson holiday special if she was cooking up a storm in Hill House; It’s Anna Biller’s The Love Witch via a YouTube tutorial session; Labyrinth if Jennifer Connelly decided to set up a home with Didymus and The Worm; It’s Sesame Street after a zombie apocalypse. It’s also one of the most unique and brilliant shows currently streaming across any platform.
The show’s creator and host Christine McConnell is an artist who makes masterpieces out of baked goods. Her irreverent and wicked sense of humor lends the show a quaint, gothic edge while her soft, beguiling sense of femininity sweeps proud and intoxicating through the creepy, gothic set pieces. As a result, McConnell stands bold at the forefront of the show as an eerie twist on the American Dream, proving with her ghoulish yet saccharine creations that the darker side of life can be just as sweet as the lighter one.
Speaking to Thrillist about the conception of the show and her place within it, McConnell suggested that her soft goth aesthetic may have a specific reference point in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. And it certainly highlights the overall bittersweet tone of the show. “I feel like so much of my style and creativity was born out of that world. Winona Ryder looking like this pretty pastel person juxtaposed next to scary things -- now, obviously, this is a fantasy, this is not reality, but my dream is to be a combination of those two main characters from that movie."
It’s interesting that McConnell chooses Burton’s 90’s gothic suburban romance as a tonal reference point for her own persona within the show (which she describes as a heightened, fantastical version of her actual, real-life personality) because The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell also shares some similarities to Burton’s Beetlejuice. Most notably, the Netflix show has a recurring theme of celebrating the “strange and unusual” and in focusing on the often life-saving merits of a chosen family.
In Beetlejuice, of course, Winona Ryder plays outcast, goth teenager Lydia Deetz who self-describes herself as being “strange and unusual”. By the end of the movie, the character finally finds a sense of belonging in her new home with the ghosts of The Maitlands (Geena Davis and Alex Baldwin) - a couple who longed for a child before their untimely deaths. In many ways, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell could easily be showcasing the morbid domestic life of the adult version of Lydia Deetz.
She may have swapped out the black uniform for pastels and tea dresses, but McConnell’s evident passion for the “strange and unusual” and in creating a home for lost souls definitely reflects the good gospel of Lydia Deetz. The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is very much a show for, and about, outcasts with McConnell sharing her home with the various “strays” that she’s brought into her macabre little family over the years.
There’s Rankle, a mummified Sphynx cat that she saves from a museum; Edgar, a gigantic and loveable yet dim-witted werewolf who stumbles into her home in the first episode; Vivienne, a sultry ghost who lives in McConnell’s mirrors and is played by the unparalelled Dita Von Teese; and our absolute favourite - Rose, a super-horny undead racoon hybrid with a bent fork for a left hand who McConnell brought back from the dead after she was hit by a truck.
Edgar, Rankle, and Rose are fantastical Jim Henson creations who lend the show a whimsical edge. But they’re also wisecracking and shady - always plotting murder against one another and unafraid to serve up some acid-tongued takedowns making the household, at times, feel like an anarchic, furry version of Grey Gardens.
There’s something unabashedly queer about the tone of the household and particularly in the way that McConnell’s chosen family is so firmly rooted in empowerment and survival. Edgar, Rankle, and Rose may love to snipe bitchisms around the house, but ultimately they support one another and celebrate those personal qualities that mainstream society may have otherwise deemed to be unnatural and monstrous.
That sentiment truly comes to a head in the episode “A Cake for Rose” wherein McConnell and the gang pretend to have forgotten Rose’s birthday so they can surprise her with a swell of treats later on. Throughout the episode, Rose is seething with bitterness over the idea that her family has forgotten her special day and her insecurities regarding that seep into how she sees herself.
By the end of the episode (right after threatening to set fire to everyone, of course: “If they don’t love me at my worst then I’ll burn the goddamn house down!”), Rose is presented with all the presents necessary to make her feel like the “fairy princess” she so dearly wants to be. “You guys don’t think that I’m ugly and that I’m trashy?” she asks everyone, and is adorably convinced otherwise. Tellingly, McConnell later presents Rose with her very own bed - and it just so happens to be a dumpster.
One woman’s trash is another’s treasure and this particular dumpster is one that makes Rose feel pretty, loved, and most importantly, like a goddamn princess. Rose is a little rough around the edges and she’s certainly trashy, but the show goes to great lengths to emphasise how these qualities are positives, not negatives. Rose’s slightly mangled appearance isn’t disgusting, it’s endearing. Likewise, her trashiness doesn’t degrade her value - if anything, it heightens who she is and how she fits into McConnell’s spooky, fantastical world.
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell celebrates the weird, wonderful, and occasionally diabolical parts of ourselves that make us unique. The creations are often astounding and make for delectable viewing, but they’re just the icing on this dark yet heartwarming slice of horror. The real beating core of the show is in its fervent reminder that feminine identity can be expressed in a myriad of ways and that being strange and unusual is an asset not a hinderance. So throw on your dragon wings, get into your princess dumpster, and eat all the sugar cookies you damn well want to. You ain’t ugly or trashy for doing so, babe.