One of the aspects of Netflix that I like is the availability of a wide variety of international programming. Particularly in genres like fantasy, the differences in the underlying mythology in which the fantasy is rooted lead to some interesting takes on familiar themes.
The idea of teenagers fighting supernatural creatures with the help of one or more adult wisdom figures is hardly a new premise, but its execution in Mr. Midnight is fresh. This is partly the result of the that it draws on the traditions of Singapore, which may not be familiar to a lot of Western audience members.
(At least, I think its Singaporean. Netflix and IMDB both connect it with Singapore, but for some reason, when I first watched it, I thought it was set in Indonesia. Interestingly, so did some of the IMDB reviewers, one of whom claims familiarity with Singapore. And though Tanah Merah, where the story is located, is a region in Singapore, there is also a city in Malaysia by the same name. In any case, there are a number of different cultural groups in or near the area, so some of the myths and urban legends involved have diverse origins.)
Before we discuss the series, a little background is in order. Mr. Midnight is based on a series of children’s books written by James Lee. The series parts company with the books to some extent, in that it is intended for young adults, while the books are aimed at middle graders. The series has 102 books, making it one of the longest series of children’s books in existence. It is said that it outsells the Harry Potter books in Singapore and Malaysia and is often also compared to Goosebumps. It and can be found at https://amzn.to/3C1XBh0 (affiliate link) if anyone is interested. The author has traveled widely but currently lives in Australia (which, interestingly enough, also has a town called Tanah Merah).
Tyar, the main character, begins to develop mystical abilities that are, as in many familiar stories, double edged–they can be used for good or for evil. There’s also room to make mistakes when one is inexperienced. So it’s not surprising that Tyar’s mother actively discourages his interest in the supernatural.
But it’s hard to ignore supernatural beings when they keep attacking, and Tyar’s abilities may be the only thing that can save him and his friends. This sets up a classic dilemma–use the power, and risk corruption; or don’t use it, and risk annihilation.
Tyar’s character is presented as a likeable but fallible protagonist who wants to be good but might just be corruptible under the right circumstances. His friends have their own inner dilemmas to wrestle with, as do the adults in the story. There’s more than enough conflict to keep the series running at a fast pace, as well as the overarching theme of the potential danger of power.
The monsters Tyar and his friends encounter are similar in some ways to Western supernatural menaces, but there is enough cross-cultural difference to keep the Western audience curious.
But what I really like about this kind of international series is that it also shows us how alike we are. In the modern world, we shouldn’t have to be reminded that people are people, but sometimes we do need that. The teenagers in the show react to situations in the same way that teenagers in any society would. The same is true of the adults and of the way society in general functions. This series and others like it serve as a reminder of our common humanity.
(The featured image is copyrighted by vovan and licensed from Shutterstock.com.)