Netflix’s content drip runs at such an unrelenting pace that eventually there’s going to be some overlap. That overlap can manifest in some interesting ways, inadvertently (maybe?) creating a block of programs that compliment one another, despite having no connection outside their bingeable status on the streaming service. That seems to be the case with The Innocents, Netflix’s new YA romance/supernatural drama. A strangely compelling series that follows June (Sorcha Groundsell) and Harry (Percelle Ascott), a pair of love-struck teens on the run, who discover (early into their truancy) that June possesses some extraordinary shape-shifting abilities, and that her family history is (naturally) shrouded in secrets and lies.
What’s first striking about The Innocents, aside from co-starring Guy Pearce as a mysterious scientist named Halvorson, who is working directly with an isolated group of women who also have shape-shifting abilities like June, is its production details, which include a bevy of sweeping vista shots capturing the idyllic remoteness of Halvorson’s compound/commune, as well as day-to-day life of June and her father, the strict, slightly paranoid John (Sam Hazeldine) and her agoraphobic brother Ryan (Arthur Hughes). The attention to detail, the specifics of how the characters live and spend their time, help to make the series’ setting feel real and lived in. That consideration goes a long way in convincing the viewer to stick with the outlandish conceit and to see where this particular story is going.
Though the story details are demonstrably different, the mood of The Innocents, accentuated by both its chilly atmosphere and attractive cinematography that favors a bluish-gray palette, is comparable to a pair of recent Netflix arrivals: the German time travel series, Dark, and the Scandinavian teen apocalypse drama, The Rain. Capitalizing on that mood and the sense of place helps get The Innocents over its first big hurdle — explaining what the hell is going on without losing the audience or drowning them in exposition.
To that end, the series’ first two episodes manage to cover a lot of ground (literally), while still setting the stage for a larger mystery to unfold. June and Harry’s act of teenage rebellion (or selfishness, if you’re watching from the parents’ perspective) is only part of the story being told, and rather than act as the sole inciting incident of the series, the pair’s half-baked plan winds up inadvertently putting them on a collision course with Halvorson’s efforts to locate June and bring her back to the commune where her mother Elena (Laura Birn) currently resides (or is potentially being held captive). Halvorson’s man for this mission is Steinar (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson). A dead ringer for Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk, Steinar has the luck or misfortune of being the subject of the two initial “shifts” seen in the series. First by Runa (Ingunn Beate Øyen), who works with Halvorson, and later by June, following an admittedly misguided attempt to compel her into a van on the side of a desolate country road outside of London.
Aside from the nature of these shape-shifting women, how their abilities work, and whether or not they can shift into the body of anyone other than Steinar, The Innocents works with an intriguing sense of ambiguity regarding Halvorson’s studies and his intentions with June and the women already residing in his scientific commune. This multi-faceted approach works in favor of the narrative, which, had it focused solely on one or the other, would quickly have run out of road. Instead, series creators, writers, and executive producers, Hania Elkington and Simon Duric, develop a multitude of threads, all of which weave the story into a much larger, more fulfilling tapestry.
Like Dark, The Innocents puts time and effort into crafting narratives for the adults — John, Elena, Runa, Halvorson, etc. — that operate outside their relationships with their children. The adults aren’t one-note villains or clueless monsters out to control their children’s lives and prevent them from attaining any sense of freedom. Instead, their interests and concerns extend far beyond the boundaries of parenthood. Giving the adults greater interiority expands the scope of the story in a way that benefits all characters. Case in point: an entire thread exists concerning Harry’s mother, Christine (Nadine Marshall), a police detective who relies on her son to help care for his disabled father, Lewis (Philip Wright).
The effect of Harry's absence, then, forces the audience to look at his and June’s decision from another angle, one that turns the otherwise romantic decision of two young lovers into something that’s also selfish and reckless. It’s rare for a series to not put the audience firmly in the teen’s camp, or to turn the parents entirely into clueless adults, not only unaware the extent to which they don’t know their children, but also frustratingly uninterested. Though The Innocents revolves around a multitude of characters who peddle in secrets and lies, the narrative itself is more interested in allowing the characters to discover the truth for themselves, rather than keep it from them while slowly cluing the audience in.
Aside from its roster of well-drawn, engaging characters, perhaps the strongest aspect of The Innocents is its time management, something other recent YA genre series, like the meandering Runaways or Cloak & Dagger, struggle with greatly. At just eight, hour-long episodes, the first season moves at a significant clip, considerably faster than the aforementioned superhero shows, as well as many other programs available on Netflix. Ultimately, this strange little YA series, manages to deliver a propulsive plot along with compelling adult characters that enhance the story surrounding its teen protagonists.
The Innocents season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.