By Samantha Highfill
September 30, 2020 at 12:57 PM EDT
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A monster walks into a diner and orders a burger. Only he doesn’t look like a monster. He looks like a man — albeit a slightly creepy one, with his serial-killer-chic baggy jeans and oversize glasses. He’s sitting across from his waitress, a teenage mom struggling to pay the bills and care for her tempertantrum-prone toddler. They’ve both done bad things. They both need help. Species aside, are they really all that different? That’s the central question posed by Hulu’s anthology series Monsterland, with each episode introducing viewers to both creatures and humans, and watching them navigate what life throws their way.

Created by Mary Laws, the series is inspired by Nathan Ballingrud’s collection of short stories titled North American Lake Monsters. "It’s in this world called the weird tales genre, which is this really poetic, sort of profound subgenre of horror," Laws says of Ballingrud’s book. "It’s not like slasher horror. This felt like it had a true feminine touch to it. It’s something you don’t see very often." Living in that weird fiction subgenre, Monsterland is what Laws deems an "untraditional" horror series that takes a deep look at what it means to be human. "We live in a world where you do one thing wrong and you can get canceled," Laws says. "I’m not saying that cancel culture is exclusively bad, because there is a real reason for it, but I also feel like people are being trained to be a little less forgiving of other people’s humanity. I think it’s really important to recognize that people are people and you can do really monstrous, really horrible things and still be human."

Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

The series’ first human-monster pairing, the ones sharing a booth, are played by Kaitlyn Dever and Jonathan Tucker. Over the course of that first episode, Dever’s single mom will have to decide what kind of future she wants, but also what she’s willing to do to achieve it. "I was really excited to play a mom for the first time," Dever says. "I think I had these preconceived notions of what a mom is supposed to be like, but there’s so many different types of mothers in the world, and they’re all going through different things. This episode was the biggest learning curve of my career." The actress has been making a name for herself recently with standout performances on screens big and small in 2019’s Booksmart and Unbelievable. This role reunites her with Tucker, with whom she worked on Justified. "I liked the idea of a monster anthology where you’re not really quite sure of how monstrous somebody is," Tucker says.

That theme continues past Dever and Tucker’s hour as the eight-episode season — which also features Taylor Schilling, Kelly Marie Tran, and Mike Colter — explores the topics of mental health, grief, loneliness, and more. "The whole idea of the show is trying to cope with your inner monster," Dever says. "Everyone has one, and maybe it’s inescapable."

Monsterland hits Hulu on Friday.

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