A group of high schoolers find themselves in an exact copy of their wealthy Connecticut town. But there’s a catch: their parents, family members, and every other neighbor they've ever known are gone. These kids are left to figure out how to survive — and how this mystery occurred in the first place — alone. Kathryn Newton, of Big Little Lies and Detective Pikachu fame, anchors all the teenage turmoil.
The premise of Netflix’s The Society, premiering Friday, May 10, sounds like a dream for anyone who enjoys the campy madness of Riverdale or the sexy intensity of Elite. Then you watch it. While the streaming series has flickers of the fun romp you’re looking for, it needs to take a lesson from the teen dramas that came before it. The Society needs more mayhem.
The YA drama opens on the eve of West Ham High’s annual 16-and-over school trip. The social divides are obvious. Sisters Cassandra (Legion's Rachel Keller), WHHS’ know-it-all star, and Allie (a hard-working Newton), an abiding second-in-command, are our protagonists. Their closest friend is Will (Jacques Colimon), an adorable wrong-side-of-the-tracks boy. The trio is not exactly cool, but they are known by the cool kids, who are led by Harry (Alex Fitzalan), someone practically dripping with tri-state area wealth. Harry’s girlfriend is Kelly (Sierra Burgess Is A Loser breakout Kristine Froseth), a friendly girl who tries to overlook her man’s douchier behavior.
As with most high schools, there is also a smattering of jocks, outsiders, normies, and bullies milling about. All will reveal their most hidden depths over the coming 10 episodes of The Society.
But, first, everyone needs to get on a bus to the Great Smoky Mountains down south to go camping for a week. For unknown reasons, these plans go awry, and the pack of buses bring our teens back home. A strange smell that has plagued West Ham is gone, as is every single person who ever lived in the town and any method of escape. This sleepy little isolated burg is now ripe for the taking by our horny rich kids.
You would expect the Society teens to really test the bounds of what this newfound freedom means. Over on Riverdale right now, its teenagers are building gambling den-speakeasy empires, pulling heists, creating elaborate boxing schemes, selling drugs, joining cults, investigating S&M clubs, and sharing a single bunker cot for sex. Last year, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) stripped to “Mad World” in a biker bar. This year, three students nearly had a threesome on the auditorium stage of Riverdale High. And all of this is happening with the oversight of Riverdale's adult population. Imagine what kind of jingle jangle would unfold if they all vanished.
That winding, weird, likely orgy-strewn road is where you assume The Society will lead viewers. Instead, it takes the route of Lord of the Flies by way of grief dirge The Leftovers. Yes, of course there is one wild party in the West Ham church, giving us an effective clash between youthful debauchery and New England’s Puritanical roots. Then, things get very serious. Like, multiple series-changing tragedies in the first few episodes serious. Even the sci-fi mysteries of how our heroes and villains ended up in their uncanny entrapment takes a backseat to the political growth spurts on display.
The Society is a show enamored with the absolute melancholy of its character’s grave situation. That explains the countless battles for the soul of this new, young town, moments intense enough to resemble a a a Game of Thrones power grab. When bad boy Campbell (Toby Wallace, poised for a viral breakout), strides into a room to boom, “No one elected you king, cousin,” you half expect to see the Iron Throne in the background.Campbell is destined for Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rhreon) comparisons and think pieces.
So much of this series is about digging into who these teens are underneath their high school personas. For Allie, that means she is so much stronger than she ever realized in her sister’s shadow. For others, this new chance leaves room for romances that wouldn’t have been possible in the old social ecosystem (which often provide some of Society’s best thrills). But, in Campbell’s case, this new world order is an opportunity to perfect his most monstrous impulses.
A scene involving Campbell, his new love interest Elle (Olivia DeJonge), and a bathtub will likely go down as one of the most haunting images on Netflix this year. It is also only a glimpse at the sadism Campbell will bring to this show.
At least these dire circumstances sometimes lend themselves to moments of brilliance. One character reflects on the meaning of pregnancy in a time without real doctors or proper medical care. Sam (Sean Berdy), a queer boy who is also deaf, gives a heart-wrenching speech on the overwhelming impossibility of love. Everyone ponders the death of childhood and aches of adulthood.
If only these kids were allowed to have more fun along the way to Lost-like enlightenment.