Gargoyles, 25 Years Later

Rewatching a beloved show from childhood feels perilous. So many things look truly awful with the benefit of maturity and shifting social and political awareness, and that can tarnish my memories of the cherished show/movie/book. So it was a relief to rewatch Gargoyles and find it (almost) as good as I remembered!

For those who were not previously aware of it, Gargoyles aired on the Disney channel in the mid-90’s. It told the story of a clan of gargoyles, frozen in stone and then re-awakened in Manhattan. It was noted at the time for being surprisingly dark (especially for a Disney property), and for it’s complex, intertwining plots and Shakespearean references.

By the time that I had access to it in high school (aka, when Disney got bundled into our cable package), it was already in reruns, and I was never able to watch the episodes in order, forced to rely upon the extensive recaps to keep me from drowning in confusion. Watching all of the episodes – in the order that they were originally aired – has been a bit of a novelty.

The first season is fine. It sets up the characters and the main conflicts, and you can amuse yourself playing “spot the Star Trek voice actor” during the slow parts (Two of the main villains are voiced by Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, and it became a bit of a running gag on Gargoyles that most of the cast of Next Generation shows up somewhere). But once that groundwork is laid, the story really picks up in season 2, when the writers are able to start weaving disparate threads together, building depth and complexity. Then, they start telling some interesting stories about guilt and revenge, forgiveness and finding peace. It’s also where the Shakespeare references start really building up, with a lot of “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” woven into the mythology.

The cultural sensitivity is not always up to my current standards, but it’s also not terrible. There is diversity among the human characters (for instance, Eliza Mazda, the gargoyle’s only human friend for most of the series, is a biracial woman with a Black mother and a Navajo father). During a lengthy plotline in which a selection of the main cast goes on an extended world tour, most of the depictions of other cultures are complimentary, and reasonably well-rounded within the confines a 22 minute long episode. One or two episodes made me cringe, but not many.

I had a lot of fun revisiting this old friend. I think we all imprint on certain books, movies, and TV shows when we’re kids, for good or ill. When you’re young, and you find something that reflects a piece of your heart back at you for the first time, it makes an impression. Gargoyles was definitely one of those shows for me. The complexity and depth of the plots, the dark tone, the references to Shakespeare and mythology, they all spoke to me.

I don’t know that Gargoyles would stand out from the crowd today. We live in a bit of a golden age of television, and shows like Avatar: the Last Airbender, Steven Universe, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power are all probably telling more interesting stories. If you never watched Gargoyles, it might not impress you anymore. But if you have fond memories of Goliath, Eliza, and the Manhattan Clan, then you can safely recapture that joy.