‘Dead End: Paranormal Park’ Review: Paranormal Fantasy Show Validates Transgender Teens

This animated show is a groundbreaking example of authentic and positive representation of transgender identity and neurodiversity.


Dead End: Paranormal Park, an animated show adapted from Hamish Steele’s graphic novel series “DeadEndia”, is a heartwarming and inspiring story about a group of exceptional teenagers, their paranormal friends, and the challenges of navigating a summer job that’s haunted by a plethora of supernatural beings. The show is reminiscent of many childhood favorites such as Danny Phantom, Scooby-Doo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and My Life as a Teenage Robot.

Dead End: Paranormal Park camps firmly in the fantasy and horror genre, with storylines that touch on betrayal, anxiety, failure, and greed, as well as heartwarming character arcs centered around forgiveness, found family, and seeing the best in others. The series follows as an exceptional debut for fans of The Owl House, a show created by Dana Terrace that has been praised for its dark fantasy and body horror themes and for pushing the boundaries of what has been considered “children’s cartoons.” 

Netflix’s Dead End: Paranormal Park features transgender actor Zach Barack (Spider-Man: Far From Home) as series lead Barney, a young trans man; Kody Kavitha (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) as Norma Khan; and Michaela Jaé (MJ) Rodriguez of Pose and Tick, Tick… Boom! in a special cameo as a swashbuckling sibling to one of the series’ villains. Other cast members of note include Kenny Tran as Logan Nguyen, internet sensation Miss Coco Peru as Pauline Phoenix, and Emily Osment as the canonically nonbinary demon, Courtney. Although author Steele confirmed that Courtney is nonbinary and uses any/all pronouns in the original graphic novel series, Courtney uses exclusively she/her pronouns in Dead End: Paranormal Park to avoid stereotypical tropes of non-human portrayal which are harmful to the gender non-conforming community.

For many LGBTQ+ viewers, Dead End: Paranormal Park is a breath of fresh air and a reminder of what representation can do for young minds that may be questioning their gender or sexuality. In the show, Barney experiences life circumstances far too common for many young transgender people: fear of rejection from close family members, unstable living situations, and having to navigate the social changes that come with socially transitioning as a transgender person. While Barney is able to navigate uncertain waters and find a place to stay while he resolves conflict with his biological family, his story is not unfamiliar to many trans youth today: according to The Trevor Project, “28% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives — and those who did had 3.5x the rate of attempting suicide,” a statistic that is far too high for an already at-risk population. Dead End: Paranormal Park addresses the uncertainty of Barney’s future with candor and respect, and he is allowed to make his own decisions in a supportive environment with people who love and accept him entirely.

As Barney and Norma team up to be the titular haunted park’s new security team, their adventures lead to many fascinating discoveries about themselves and the kinds of people they want to be. Norma — a Pakistani-American who is canonically autistic — shares her struggles with anxiety and making new friends. Her deep appreciation of Pauline Phoenix and her craving for independence pull viewers into her story and demand rapt attention.

Without question, it is Norma’s unwavering acceptance and unconditional support that binds her so closely to Barney. Norma’s bravery in choosing to be vulnerable — along with Kavitha’s exceptional delivery in episode three, “Trust Me” — is what allows Barney and his friends to escape the clutches of their greatest fears. Together, Norma and Barney’s bravery prevails as they seek to protect the ones they love.

With a 100% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 79% score among audiences (as of publishing), Dead End: Paranormal Park goes above and beyond the well-worn tropes of being transgender and autistic on-screen. The show invites viewers to deep-dive into fantasy while centering issues that are overwhelmingly human and familiar at the core of its plot. This is perhaps the true horror of Dead End: Paranormal Park — that behind every paranormal monster is an all-too-familiar human existential crisis: the longing to be known and accepted.

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