BBC's Clique Is Riverdale Meets Gossip Girl With A Sinister Twist

If Gossip Girl were set at a university in Edinburgh and took a turn towards the dark, seductive and lingeringly tense genre of psychological thrillers, you’d arrive at BBC Three’s Clique.
It’s a drama that follows the scandalous lives of Scotland’s elite students. The focus here isn’t uninhibited shopping trips and underage drinking, though. Instead, Clique is about the complicated inner workings of exclusive friendship groups at the mercy of the university's seedy underbelly. It's about the danger that follows when these smart, ambitious twentysomethings find themselves at the centre of a sinister controversy. Yes, it’s as deliciously dramatic as it sounds.
In a nutshell, that’s what happened in the first series. Holly and her childhood best friend went to university together and were drawn to a glamorous but deeply troubled group of young women who were in the middle of an international scandal that ended traumatically for each and every one of them. The second series, which starts this weekend, picks up in the aftermath of the previous academic year, with Holly this time quickly allured by a male clique, "a group of freewheeling renegades".
At the beginning of season two, we see this quartet of freewheeling bad boys infringe on a campus forum in which students are demanding answers from the university dean about safe spaces. At the push of a button the guys release a shower of snowflakes over the complaining undergrads and film the messy display for a video that's shortly uploaded to "Twitcher", a website that promises to "just tell the truth. Or try to." There's a scene where a right-wing author invades a meeting at the feminist society to denounce gender politics, question no-platforming and mock women's frustrations with the patriarchy. Sat at the back watching the whole thing unfold, of course, is our band of privileged renegades. The echoes of what's been going on in the real world ring loudly as our attention is directed towards the four attractive troublemakers.
"It’s always been around, that tribalism at uni," says Clique’s writer, creator and executive producer Jess Brittain (who also wrote on Channel 4's Skins). "I think it’s become much more gender divided in recent times, which I guess is where this whole thing started from – the worry that causes and how troubling it is to see such a divide between the two sides. I don’t think that’s been about gender so strongly ever before, or not in my memory."
University tribalism is something many of us are familiar with. Although as a television drama, Clique pushes the boundaries with narrative and is able to present scenarios in terrifying extremes, at its core is the pressure and confusion of this formative stage of life. Much of that relies on the people you surround yourself with, which Brittain has long been conscious of in her writing – the less idyllic side to female friendship.
"It’s usually your first intense love affair," she explains. "As a woman that’s usually where your first intense relationship is and it's so fundamental at university because it's so hard, university is so hard, and female friendships stand in for your whole support group and you quite often learn or construct who you are depending on who you’re around and who they are. So if that goes wrong in any way or if that gets splintered or if there’s any betrayal, that can completely and utterly destabilise you as a young woman."
It's no spoiler to reveal that this happened to Holly last season as she navigated the murky world of high-stakes friendship among the intelligent and wealthy. This time around she's got to try and do the same thing with the few friends she has left, with the ominous presence of a similarly shady group of boys in the picture, too. Curious? You should be. Watch the trailer below for an intense taste of what's in store for Holly this season.

More from TV