Since Stranger Things became a massive breakout success for Netflix, streaming platforms and networks have jostled for the next winning mix of teen drama and supernatural mystery. Some of these shows (Chambers, The Society) never made it past a first season. Other series haven’t made the same cultural impact (The A-List). But Amazon Prime’s The Wilds reminded us that a young cast, contemporary issues, and classic concepts could yield big ratings. Like The Wilds, Yellowjackets strands teen girls – in Northern Ontario this time – in a story that’s one part Lord of the Flies and one part Lost. And just like The Wilds, Yellowjackets has become a cultural sensation.
In 1996, a high school girls soccer team, the Yellowjackets, boarded a plane for the national state championships. But they never made it. Somewhere over Northern Canada, their plane crashed and stranded the survivors in the remote wilderness. Years later the survivors struggle to distance themselves from what happened in the woods. But some secrets refuse to stay in the past.
Yellowjackets Finds a New, Exciting Voice in Old Ideas
Straight from its opening scene, Yellowjackets hooks you and never lets go. Episode One director Karyn Kusama’s (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation) opening shots of girls clad in fur and animal masks cooking and eating one of their own sets a haunting tone. But series creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson aren’t interested in just updating Lord of the Flies. Across its ten episodes, Yellowjackets patiently – and mostly – show us how its girls soccer team ends up hunting one another. Plenty of questions are left for a second season. And more questions pop up in its season finale. In between its first and final episode, Yellowjackets weaves a thrilling mystery with fleshed out psychological drama.
But series creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson aren’t interested in just updating Lord of the Flies.
One one hand, Yellowjackets clearly borrows from 2000s supernatural hit, Lost. Both its story structure – a past and present scenes – and hints of supernatural elements should feel familiar. Still Lyle and Nickerson expertly maintain a veil over just how much the supernatural figures into their story. Who is Adam? Can Lottie really see things that have not happened yet? What does that symbol mean? Whose body did the girls find in the abandoned cabin? Part of the fun in watching the series are all the theories. Unlike Lost, however, Yellowjackets better mixes in the psychological elements and never feels like its setting itself up for a narrative failure.
Yellowjackets Gives Its Excellent Cast Compelling Characters to Inhabit
In addition to its deft handling of mystery, Yellowjackets assembles an excellent cast of young up-and-coming stars and talented veterans. Part of the series’ strength is the moral ambiguity of its adult characters contrasted with the regular – and extraordinary – struggles of their young counterparts. Each adult character’s trauma elevates the series into something more than just a thriller. Amongst a standout cast, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci turn in powerhouse performances. Lewis’ Natalie balances a tough, weathered exterior with vulnerability. And Ricci’s ‘Misty’ – and oddball and very dangerous outcast – may the most interesting character. One of Season Two’s bigger questions is just how much of a threat Misty poses. And their younger counterparts, Sophie Thatcher and Sammi Hanratty – equally impress.
Among a standout cast, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci turn in powerhouse performances.
Yet is Melanie Lynskey and and Tawny Cypress’ more understated performances that allow Yellowjackets to explore the various ways in which trauma impacts us. As Natalie notes, ‘You guys are just as fucked up as I am. You’re just better at hiding it.’ On the surface, Lynskey’s ‘Shauna’ and Cypress’ Taissa’ appear to have their lives in order. With each passing, however, Yellowjackets shows us the various ways in which their shared traumatic experiences have infected their lives. One of the more impressive parts of the series has to be its ability to cast the perfect younger performers. Playing teen ‘Shauna’ and ‘Taissa’, Sophie Nélisse and Jasmin Savoy Brown (Sound of Violence) future stars. All of Yellowjackets’ drama, mystery, and horror is set against an epic 90s soundtrack. And never skip the amazing opening credits.
Don’t let anyone tell you we’re not in another ‘Golden Age’ of television. With multiple streaming platforms – from Netflix to Amazon to Disney – developing their own content, we’re getting more high-quality programming than we have the time to actually watch. Now Yellowjackets is officially a buzzworthy series that absolutely deserves the praise. Mixing bits of Lost with Lord of the Flies, Yellowjackets puts its own spin on the concept while giving its female cast a strong voice. Having learned the lesson of past shows, including The X-Files and Lost, the show’s creators understand the importance of advancing their story while still keeping some things under wraps. Now we just have to wait patiently for Season 2.