The Kids Are All Forgettable in Netflix’s The Society
The Society. Available now on Netflix.
When the high school kids in the upscale New England town of West Ham head off on a field trip to a national park, it gets canceled halfway to the destination. When they arrive back home in the middle of the night, the town is empty. And, deprived of adult supervision for a full 10 minutes, the lot of them go all Lord of the Flies: Grocery store potato-chip aisle looting! Peeing on walls! Water drunk right from the faucet! “Fuck” used as past perfect progressive! Teenagers quoting Christopher Durang plays! Poor Gen Z teens. They can’t even go feral worth a damn.
I’m as happy as the next Baby Boomer to see an entire generation younger than mine witheringly dismissed as fools with the flick of an executive producer’s cigarette holder. But can you really build an entire television show around a cri de coeur that today’s teenagers, left to their own devices, would mix Spam with jalapenos?
It is the apparent conviction of The Society‘s creator-writer Christopher Keyser, whose eclectic resume includes L.A. Law, Party of Five and Tyrant, that you can, and he’s doing his level best to prove it.
The Society contains not a single interesting character or plot line. Its young cast is so unmemorable that it’s impossible to recall which one is which. Is that girl the dancer with self-esteem issues or the one with the drunk mom? Is that the nice deaf boy or his crazy brother? And does it matter?
Spoiler alert: No. The kids spend their time either setting up elaborate motorized games of tag or embarking on truly impossible projects. (One goes to the now-abandoned town hospital’s library to teach himself how to perform heart surgery on the hot student body president, who needs a bypass. Or maybe it was the girl who’s the school’s social queen bee?)
Either way, they show a remarkable indifference to their situation, or even the possible clues about what led to it. That weird stench that hung over the town on the day they left, for instance. “There’s no reason to suspect that this stink poses any health hazard,” the mayor had said at a city council meeting, his eyes pinwheeling so madly that you knew it was going to be the rotting viscera of disemboweled zombies marching toward West Ham.
Then there was the Hebrew inscription that turned up on the school gym just before they left on the field trip: Mene mene tekel upharsin, “you’ve been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Its most famous previous use as graffiti is in the Biblical book of Daniel, when it appears on the wall of the palace of the unrepentant tyrant Belshazzar shortly before he meets one of those inauspicious Old Testament fates. Are the kids caught up in some theological allegory?
Maybe so. “There’s nothing around here to do but fucking think,” complains one of them. OMG, they’re in teen Hell.
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