Ryan Gosling is engaging in an A-List leading man face-off this weekend in the Netflix original movie The Gray Man. In the spy thriller, Gosling plays a black ops mercenary who discovers some sensitive secrets and finds himself pursued by mustachioed assassin Chris Evans. It's the next movie from the guys who directed Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, so it's obviously big on action and explosions, but it's not the first time Ryan Gosling has performed on the small-screen.
Gosling famously was one of the handful of music and movie stars who got their start on the Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club, but after that show closed its doors in 1995, Gosling moved on to that other bastion of '90s youth programming: Nickelodeon. Specifically, it was Nick's spooky Saturday-night horror-for-tweens series Are You Afraid of the Dark? that cast Gosling for a 1995 episode titled "The Tale of Station 109.1." Since The Mickey Mouse Club was a variety series where Gosling mostly sang and danced as himself, the Are You Afraid of the Dark? performance stands as Gosling's dramatic acting debut. And guess what? You can stream the episode right now on Paramount+.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? was an influential show for Millennials, serving an an entryway into more grown-up stories for kids who were too young for straight-up horror but still wanted the thrill of something spooky. The scariness factor tended to vary wildly from episode to episode, but Gosling's episode was a legit creeper, with a paranormal sheen to it and a Gilbert Gottfried guest turn that probably left a generation of kids scared of Friars' Club roasts for reasons they could never explain.
"The Tale of Station 109.1" begins with a pair of brothers. The younger one, Chris (Zachary Carlin) is a moody little pre-goth, wearing all black and obsessed with death and funerals. Which makes it incredibly easy for his older brother Jamie (Gosling) to bully the little freak. Gosling calls his on-screen brother a cheesehead and sneers at his obsession with death, before pulling a prank on him by locking him inside of a hearse. Inside, Chris hears a radio station signal featuring a creepy voice that sounds like somebody doing a marginal James Mason impression advertising a radio station for the "dimensionally challenged."
As all moody little pre-goths do, Chris becomes fixated, and he looks up Station 109.1, which at first doesn't seem to exist, but then he finds a last-known address, which turns out to be a nondescript door in an alley.
Before he even goes in, Chris sees a bunch of unsetting looking older people dressed up in suits and dresses, all looking unsure of where they're supposed to be. Inside the door, Chris doesn't find a radio station but a waiting room… because the radio station is calling spirits of the dead who've lost their way to come and cross over into the afterlife.
This is where Chris encounters Gilbert Gottfried, an irritable bureaucrat who mistakes Chris as one of the dead and tags him with a neon-green slap bracelet marked with his number in line. It's all very "last scene of Beetlejuice" except without the gory presentations or shrunken heads.
Gottfried, by the way, is terrifying, using his famously screechy voice to intimidate Chris, although he's actually even more terrifying when he steps out of his squinty-eyed squawking persona to threaten Chris with eternal damnation.
Gosling's jerky older brother finally comes back into the picture when Chris is able to send out a radio dispatch that he's in trouble, and Jamie hears it. Together with the lost spirit from the hearse, they storm the radio station to go save Chris.
Looking back, what are we to make of Gosling's performance? Does it all predict his future as a Hollywood leading man?
First of all, he plays this kid as like 90% smirk, which is the right call for a show pitched towards tweens. If you were at home on a Saturday night watching Are You Afraid of the Dark?, you were far more likely to be the Chris than the Jamie, so Gosling's sneering only made him a more recognizable bully to the home audience.
And while Gottfried is the one giving the performance to write home about, Gosling's screen presence is undeniable even at age 15. He really commits to the bit, showing flashes of the cocky swagger he'd later show off in movies like Crazy, Stupid Love and The Big Short.
Within a decade, Gosling would be a major movie star, sweeping Rachel McAdams off her feet in The Notebook, and headlining movies like Drive, Blade Runner 2049, and La La Land. But for any of us who were there one Saturday night in 1995, he'll always belong to the Midnight Society.
Ryan Gosling's episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (S5 E2) is available to stream in its entirety on Paramount+.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.