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The Society Review: Ambitious YA Story Has Middling Success With Big Ideas

Rachel Keller and Kathryn Newton in The Society Season 1 Netflix

Right away, The Society asks a lot from its viewers. When a group of students from a mainly affluent Connecticut town are forced to return early from a strangely unchaperoned class field trip due to weather and impassible road conditions, the teens find their homes and school deserted. No parents. No teachers. No one. Even the faceless people driving the busses have evaporated faster than your suspension of disbelief. Yet, the kids soon find that all roads leading out of their not-so humble little town connect only to a seemingly endless forest, filled with deadly predators, as one intrepid but unlucky student finds out. Stranger still, although they can’t call anyone or use the internet, their phones still work (they can contact one another), and the town has plenty of electricity and running water, and the stores’ shelves are stocked with food, for the time being. 

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It’s an enormous set-up for this particular scenario, one requires the first episode do a lot of heavy lifting in order to not only explain the teens’ bizarre situation, but also who they are. The story center for the most part on sisters Casandra (Rachel Keller, Legion) and Allie (Kathryn Netwon, Supernatural). Casandra is the Ivy League-bound valedictorian who takes it upon herself to not only calm everyone’s fears, but also provide some sense of stability and order where there is none. Allie initially follows her sister’s lead, but jealousy and power struggles eventually threaten to derail what little normalcy has been established, and a schism between the siblings soon forms. 

Much of the power struggle revolves around Campbell (Toby Wallace) and Harry (Alex Fitzalan), two boys who function as paragons of alpha male douchebaggery. And while those two are at the center of many of the ills plaguing the fledgling society, the show doesn’t put forth much more effort with regard to the rest of its characters. There are a few standouts, but The Society struggles to make its tertiary characters anything other than a collection of types. There’s a group of jocks who’re basically well-intentioned lummoxes. The show also features Will (Jacques Colimon), the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Sam (Sean Brady), who is gay and hearing impaired, and his best friend Becca (Gideon Adlon), who happens to be dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. The series doesn’t have much luck with Kelly (Kristine Froseth, Apostle) or Helena (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who basically fill the roles of the girl everyone has a crush on and the religious girl.  

Where The Society runs into trouble early on is in how quickly it tosses aside any inquiry into where the kids actually are, what happened to their parents, and what, if anything, can be done to return them to their normal lives. Those bingeing in the hopes that the show will dig deeper into the mystery with each passing hour, will be sorely disappointed. Keyser and his writers’ room are clearly more interested in scrutinizing issues of power across gender lines, morality in the absence of authority, and authoritarianism versus socialism, among others. Those are avenues worth all exploring and The Society is smart about how it positions them within the context of its story and its modern-day sensibilities. But the series doesn’t always follow through on its various ideas as thoroughly as would be expected given that there are 10 episodes, most of which are close to a full hour in length. 

While The Society will frustrate those hoping for more of a genre mystery, it will nevertheless appeal to fans of YA fiction and certainly those unfamiliar with Lord of the Flies and the many stories it inspired. Though it struggles at times to logically connect all of its various threads, the series is more interested in addressing bigger themes and asking loftier questions that may or may not be satisfactorily answered. 

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The Society premieres exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, May 10.

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