All hail the newest addition to the roster of excellent teen dramas.
From Gossip Girl to the Gilmore Girls via Sex Education, here at Stylist we love a young adult drama. Now that we’ve left our teen years behind, there’s nothing more we enjoy than watching a group of 20-something (and occasionally older) actors playing out scenarios of the kind that bear absolutely no resemblance to our school years.
As a TV addict, I’ve dedicated years to watching teen shows in a variety of genres. I’ll take privileged teens navigating life, love and parents, like in The O.C. or 90210. I’ll devour crime shows like Veronica Mars and superhero fare like Smallville. Give me your small-town dramas in the form of the aforementioned Gilmore Girls, or the OG (at least for me) Dawson’s Creek.
But if I had to pick a favourite category of teen drama, it would be “teens have to save/recreate the world/civilisation in the face of a threat to humanity”. Buffy the Vampire Slayer falls into this grouping, as does something like The 100.
And so does The Society, a bit of original programming by Netflix that’s just been released on the streaming platform, and my new obsession.
Set in a place called West Ham in Connecticut (is there a better setting for American teen dramas than small, picturesque, priveleged east coast towns?), the show establishes its premise pretty quickly: all 16 to 18-year-olds from the local high school return from a cancelled school trip to discover that everyone else has disappeared from West Ham and huge forests have sprung up meaning there’s no way to get out of town. Even worse, there’s no internet anymore, and the only people they can contact by phone is each other.
After initially responding to their situation by throwing a huge party (kids, eh?), the group soon realise they’re in real trouble. And that’s when the good part begins: the teenagers have to learn how to create a functioning society from scratch, complete with rules and regulations that keep the peace and make sure all resources are adequately distributed, while trying to work out exactly where they are. It’s Lord of the Flies for the modern age.
I can promise that you will become immediately addicted to The Society. It’s got all the hallmarks of an excellent teen drama: a prom episode, love triangles, overconfident jocks and sweet nerds. The main players are all types you will recognise from previous shows – reluctant leader Allie (played by Big Little Lies’ Kathryn Newton), overprivileged pretty boy Harry (Alex Fitzalan) and villainous Campbell (Toby Wallace) among others.
But what elevates The Society above other teen shows is the way it takes those stereotypical characters and makes them so much more by having them grapple with gender politics, power dynamics, mental health and more. The show confronts domestic violence and coercive control, death and the nature of punishment, and of course what it means to have to grow up rapidly.
All of that means The Society is far better than it needed to be, and its combination of realistic teen drama, sci fi, big societal questions and just plain weirdness means that it’s easily bingeable. After you’ve inhaled the 10 episodes of the first season (it took me two days, and thankfully I started watching during a week off), join me in obsessing over everything that’s happened, and where the second series might/should go.
Warning, spoilers ahead.
When will we find out where the teenagers really are?
It’s easy to forget in amongst the dramatics that The Society is partly a sci-fi show, but the core mystery of the show is all about where New Ham (the name the teenagers give to their version of West Ham) is.
At first, the teenagers think everyone from West Ham has disappeared, but later in the season it’s posited that the teens are actually in an alternate universe. Lending credence to this is the fact that they experienced a solar eclipse, even though the next one wasn’t due to take place for a number of years, and the fact that some stars are in a different place in the sky.
Of course, the biggest reveal of the series – for us as viewers at least – came in the final scene, when we saw a group of young children being read to in a library by Cassandra (Rachel Keller) and Allie’s mum, as a plaque behind her listed the names of all the teenagers from New Ham, under the heading “We remember them”.
Who killed Cassandra?
Cassandra was initially set up to be one of the protagonists of The Society, but in a surprise twist she was shot and killed at the end of episode three, after a night dancing at prom with potential love interest Gordie. Cassandra pretty much single-handedly organising the teens of West Ham into a functioning group, but this also gained her enemies, mainly in the form of her sociopath cousin Campbell and rich kid, Harry, who was resentful of having to share his immense wealth with anyone.
Cassandra’s killer was supposedly a misogynistic kid called Dewey who would definitely describe himself as an incel if he really existed. In a final rant at his trial, he maintained that he’d been helped by Campbell and inspired by Harry. With no evidence against them, Dewey was the sole person to be convicted, and was then executed (in a horrific scene which saw the teens . The town seems to have moved on since then, but I’m not entirely convinced Dewey acted alone.
Who is the father of Becca’s baby?
As soon as it was established that Becca (Gideon Adlon) was pregnant (classic teen drama plotline), it was also established that she really, really did not want to talk about who the father might be. So much so that her best friend Sam (Sean Berdy) agreed to say he was the dad, despite him being openly gay.
We’re guessing that due to Sam’s burgeoning romance plus the fact that this is a teen drama, the ruse won’t last. So who is the father of Becca’s baby? It’s too easy, and doesn’t provide any dramatic tension, to have it be some random one-night-stand who’s not in New Ham, so it’s got to be someone she’s trapped with. One theory is that it could be Sam’s brother Campbell. He would definitely be someone you wouldn’t want to have as the father of your child (more on this later), and so it makes sense that Becca wouldn’t want to associate herself and her child, Eden, with him.
Will we see more of fan favourites Grizz, Kelly and Bean?
There are plenty of nice characters on The Society (alongside all the terrible ones), but there are only a couple that are pure.
Top of the list is Grizz (Jack Mulhern), the poetic jock who sports a head of floppy hair that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Hughes’ film, if only John Hughes’ films were woke (don’t argue with me here, I love The Breakfast Club but it’s not exactly unproblematic). Grizz learnt sign language so he could communicate properly with Sam and woo him. He fearlessly leads an expedition into the unknown to find farmable land. Grizz quotes Cicero, reads Walden out loud on a camping trip, and never abuses the power given to him as part of the Guard (the ridiculously named group of ridiculous jocks who act as New Ham’s police force).
Also joining Grizz in the excellent people category is Kelly (Kristine Froseth, who you’ll have seen in Sierra Burgess Is a Loser), who begins the series as Harry’s girlfriend and ends it as a warrior princess who’s saved a half dozen people from poisoning, and taught herself how to deliver a baby. She’s just, fair and not afraid to stand up Harry and tell him when he’s being an overprivileged idiot (or worse).
And finally, there’s Bean (Salena Qureshi), who we definitely, definitely need to see more of in season two. A visibly Muslim character, she’s never once defined by her religion. She’s clever, caring and no-nonsense, and despite her diminutive stature easily corrals a group of football players who somehow think that deep frying frozen turkeys is a good idea.
All three are going to be key to season two and to the success of New Ham, which is currently teetering on the brink of ruin. But I’m also worried their goodness means that they’ll be made to suffer in season two.
Just when is Campbell going to get his comeuppance?
Think of the nastiest character you’ve ever encountered in a teen drama. Now times that by 100 and you might get somewhere close to how awful a human being Campbell Eliot is.
We know he’s Not Nice fairly early on in the series – he tells his brother Sam that he ruined his life by being born, and threatens him with violence if he comes back to Elliot’s house.
And from there Campbell gets progressively worse, revealing more and more just how horrible he is. He begins a relationship with Elle, a quiet girl who doesn’t have any friends, and although at first he’s sweet, it’s not long before he’s controlling her. In one horrific scene, as Sam tells his friends how Campbell killed a dog when he was younger and is a sociopath, we cut to Campbell pushing Elle beneath the water, and threatening her to ensure she stays with him.
Campbell also supplies Harry with drugs, as part of a long-term plan to ensure that Harry comes to rely on him, and he orchestrates the coup in the final episode which sees The Guard take over the town and install Harry and Lexie as mayors, although it’s really Campbell pulling the strings.
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed, it’s that being in a position of power won’t be enough for Campbell, and if he can he’ll keep pushing and pushing until everything and everyone is broken. But there comes a point in all TV shows when the villain is eventually defeated, and we can only hope it happens sooner rather than later with Campbell.
When will we get to see more of The Society?
This is the biggest, most important question. Netflix has not yet confirmed whether it will be making a second season of the show, but given the strength of the first season and the number of questions left unanswered, it’s unlikely that we won’t get more of The Society.
Images: Seacia Pavao/Netflix