Society, The – Season 1



Main Cast: Kathryn Newton, Sean Berdy

Creator: Christopher Keyser

I am a completely grown woman and I have no reluctance to partake in YA media. It used to be just YA books, but now there are so many TV shows targeted directly at the teen and young adult demographic that I can’t help but dip in. My latest foray is the Netflix original The Society.

First, I can’t help but note that this is a stupid name for a television series. It is in no way memorable and doesn’t really reflect anything special about the show. The Society is about a group of teenagers left to fend for themselves, yes, and create their own society, yes. BUT COME ON.

Anyway. The basic premise of The Society is that a group of high school kids rides off to a field trip and when they return everyone else has disappeared. Parents, teachers, siblings, everyone. As one would expect, there is jostling for power amongst already combative teenagers with their own ingrained high school social structure. There is also the mystery of what happened. Where did everyone go? Or is it the teenagers who have gone somewhere?  The bulk of this first season rests on establishing some way to survive on their own, seconded by a large number of character subplots, and followed by attempts to figure out what’s happened.

The Good

I was pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of full on Lord of the Flies storylines. That’s usually the first place shows about groups of teenagers go, and it has gotten old. While there are definitely power struggles, the showrunners resist the urge to have the entire show be made up of good vs. evil violent chaos.

I also really liked the way the show chose to use its characters.  The Society has a large cast and it would have been easy for the focus to find its way to one or two individuals or spread too wide trying to flesh out everyone’s story. There’s a nice middle ground struck with the main story being driven by a few main characters while leaving room for plenty of peripheral storylines to examine individual struggles within the larger whole.

There are some really nice performances here, too. We get the expected jock vs. scholar dichotomy at the beginning, but the young actors are given space to make those stereotypes into really interesting and often conflicted people. Hats off in particular to Gideon Adlon, who plays Becca (best friend of principle character Sam, played by Sean Berdy), Jack Mulhern as Grizz (jock with some outdoorsman skills), and Olivia DeJonge as Elle (once a school outcast who becomes central to one of the weightier personal storylines). I don’t want to delve into their plots and subplots (because, you know, spoilers) but these three make a lot out of what they’re given.

Also of note is the inclusion of some overarching social commentary on issues pertinent to teenagers and young adults. The pitfalls of coming of age, both large and small, don’t magically disappear along with the rest of the townspeople and they are, in general, handled well.

The Bad

The Society definitely veers into soap opera in places. Too much time spent ruminating on who has a crush on who can really bog down a show that has bigger things in mind. I would have been happy to dial back a few of the more juvenile interpersonal dramas for more focus on the mystery of the situation.   

The devil is in the details here in The Society. Because this drama is set within a mystery, there are questions to be asked. Questions like how the electricity is still working, and how there is running water. If the show were strictly focused on all things personal and didn’t worry about any of the details maybe I could set aside my annoyance, but they cherry pick which issues to address. Worried about food shortages but never mentioning heating homes for the winter, for example. Clearly they picked the issues that could best drive the drama, but I question ignoring things like the town – despite being entirely cut off from any recognizable world – still having internal cell service.

And there’s the lame title. But we’ve already covered that.

The Verdict

The Society, despite its soapy tendencies, is a good drama with a solid cast. The central mystery is interesting and the foundation of characters and relationships makes me look forward to the second season. I like the way the showrunners have allowed the characters to be young but not forced them to be unnecessarily foolish. It’s a very good entry into the YA TV lineup (unlike the abysmal 13 Reasons Why that Netflix refuses to let go), and has plenty to maintain the interest of viewers outside the core demographic. Season one is streaming on Netflix and the second season is set to release sometime in 2020.

Update: The Society was, unfortunately, cancelled by Netflix without a second season.

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