Creepy Sci-Fi, Haunted Mansions and a Cute Cat: What to Watch on 'Film School Shorts'

Still from 'Trash Cat.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Getting tired of the same old, same old on the TV? Worse still, do you struggle each night to find something, anything, remotely inspiring in the dregs of Netflix or Amazon Prime now that you’ve watched every single available episode of Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and Battlestar Galactica?

For those of you inclined towards what we’ll call “unreality television” -- the shows providing us with nightmares of the zombie/alien/dragon variety -- this year’s season of Film School Shorts will not disappoint.

Here are six reasons to tune in to your local PBS station starting this very Friday, Sept. 9 for the fourth season of Film School Shorts. We could all use a little bit of distraction from the very real realness of our current day.

Still from 'Zelos.'
Still from 'Zelos.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Zelos

Episode 401: “Future”
Airs Friday, Sept. 9, 8:30pm

Here in the present, we continue to debate whether or not women can “have it all” (and even if they should want to “have it all”) when it comes to career and familial success. But Zelos offers us a glimpse into potential future, where “can I?” turns into “why wouldn’t I?”

The change comes, as it so often does, with the advent of a new technology -- a custom-made clone -- to lift the burden of baking, family game night and tidying up around the house from wife and mother Maria. How often have we all said, “I just wish I could clone myself!” in an exhausted and on-the-verge-of-tears tone?

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Maria dives into what seems to be a no-lose situation, devoting her own body to training for a race while her clone’s body takes on the menial chores. But as sci-fi teaches us, doppelgängers usually spell disaster -- or at the very least, discomfort -- despite their temporary benefits.

Think The One I Love meets The Stepford Wives meets The Ice Storm and you’ll have a sense of the deliciously creepy world Zelos introduces.

Still from 'Timmy II.'
Still from 'Timmy II.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Timmy II

Episode 402: “America”
Airs Friday, Sept. 16, 8:30pm

South Bay native Imran J. Khan maintains a lighthearted tone throughout this tale of fatherly love, post-9/11 xenophobia, the subprime mortgage crisis, Arab Spring and what it means to be “unique” even if you’re a robot version of a dead human.

When a housing developer’s son dies in a “tragic tractor football accident,” he does the logical thing (if you’re a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein) and builds “Timmy II,” to replace his progeny, complete with the late Timmy’s heart. It only gets weirder from there.

Highlights include a “Man or Muppet”-esque musical interlude, an ill-timed head transplant from a degenerate doctor and an unlikely friendship in an unidentified Middle-Eastern prison.

Like his predecessor Forrest Gump, Timmy II has the knack for being in the right place at the right time, experiencing large-scale historical moments as deeply personal events. And in the process, Timmy II proves that even with developments in the fields of heart and head transplants, robots don’t have it any better than we do.

Still from 'The Life and Death of Tommy Chaos and Stacey Danger.'
Still from 'The Life and Death of Tommy Chaos and Stacey Danger.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

The Life and Death of Tommy Chaos and Stacey Danger

Episode 406: “Crossed Stars”
Airs Friday, Oct. 14, 8:30pm

Like Timmy II, charming voice-over narration guides this story of two incorrigible adventurers as we follow them from trench warfare against alien T-rexes to a Life Aquatic-like underwater romance to marriage -- and its discontents -- in space.

“Blame it on the lack of gravity, but something was different,” says the omniscient voice, setting up a conflict between the title characters as old as the Earth dinosaurs. Tommy and Stacey, amazing as they are, still have to deal with normal people stuff: overly romanticized relationships, the realities of long-term commitment and how to get your groove back when you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.

At turns languid and break-neck, The Life and Death of Tommy Chaos and Stacey Danger is an ode to all things fantastic, yes, but also a lesson in the ways in which fantasy can help or hinder a relationship, even when you’re a T-rex-fighting, celery-wielding astronaut from the future.

Still from 'Fool of People.'
Still from 'Fool of People.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Fool of People

Episode 406: “Crossed Stars”
Airs Friday, Oct. 14, 8:30pm

Wordless, jaunty, magical, José Rodríguez’s sweet short short (just under three minutes) takes us on a tour through a convivial gathering at what might be a haunted mansion. Suffice to say, the imagined conversations at this soirée could fuel an entire 22-episode arc during the glory days of network TV. The character list includes: a wine-drinking cloud of smoke, newspaper-reading teacups, anthropomorphic victrolas and various animal-headed people doing various things.

This short made me want to throw a costume party.

Still from ‘Expiration Date.’
Still from ‘Expiration Date.’ (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Expiration Date

Episode 409: “Behind Closed Doors”
Airs Friday, Nov. 4, 8:30pm

Before Seth Rogen and crew got us used to the idea that our foods have feelings (and desires) too, Sarah Tejada brought a kitchen-themed zombie disaster flick to life with stop motion animation. A lot happens in four minutes: friendships are tested, sacrifices are made, old attractions are put to rest as a chocolate chip cookie, a sandwich and a carrot fight against “the plague” (aka being perishable).

Like The Walking Dead, the villains in Expiration Date, aren’t quite dead and they aren’t quite alive -- they’re “expired.” And like The Walking Dead, the foolish members of this party of survivors are the ones who unfairly live the longest. Look out for: excellent puns and the most expressive googly eyes you’ll ever see.

Still from 'Trash Cat.'
Still from 'Trash Cat.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Trash Cat

Episode 410: “Our Culture”
Airs Friday, Nov. 11, 8:30pm

I can’t get enough of this one. Looking for attention while its owner plays a videogame, a kerchief-wearing cat (potentially the cutest cat in all of animated history) knocks over a trashcan. (It might also be the most annoying cat in all of animated history.) Through a bit of animal meets technology magic, the cat is transformed and yet it remains fundamentally the same; knocking over trashcans is its overriding concern.

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Seriously though, Trash Cat asks the hard questions. Like: What’s the dividing line between our digital lives and our real lives, when everything we do is increasingly digital? Do not look away when this one goes to credits. Kelsey Goldych has an extra treat for you at the end, like all the best blockbusters of the summer franchise variety. Fingers crossed for a Trash Cat sequel.

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