What if there were no grown-ups? That’s the starting point for Netflix’s new series, which drops us into the middle of a small US town, just as the adults disappear mysteriously – leaving the kids to fend for themselves. It’s an intriguing premise, one that pitches up somewhere between Swallows and Amazons and Lost, or The Leftovers and The Kings of Summer, but The Society spends so much time teeing up its neo-civilisation that it often forgets to fill it with memorable people.
The exodus happens swiftly but subtly, as the children return from a camping trap to find the town empty and the ways out blocked off, leaving them in a strange kind of limbo: they have power, but no Internet; they have water and food, but no way of replenishing the latter. What follows wants to be Lord of the Flies, but is essentially Under the Dome: The Teenage Years, and the show shares that series’ same penchant for provocative political questions, and its knack for uneven writing.
With nobody sure what to do, high school pecking order inevitably carries over, and class president Cassandra (played excellently by Rachel Keller) finds herself assuming responsibility as town leader. She shoulders the burden of organising food counts and rationing, work duties and communal rotas, and handling her younger sister, Allie (Kathryn Newton, also impressive), who resents her for seeming to overlook her. Having a smart, capable young woman taking charge threatens some of the town’s jockier elements, and that examination of toxic masculinity, insecurity and sexism is a hugely topical and compelling.
At the same time, we see the town’s wealthier residents struggle with the idea that they should share what they have – from their wine collections or cars to their homes and, most of all, their unquestioned privilege and status; not all high school social hierarchies make sense in the real world.
These are the things The Society is most interested in, and it dives deep into the teen melodrama of exploring one’s sexuality, dealing with an abusive partner, finding one’s own role in a team. These are all worthwhile themes and subjects, not least when paired with an unabashed debate about the validity of democracy in the current political climate. Directors including Marc Webb and Haifaa Al-Mansour are adept are bringing a convincing intimacy and an unabashed sincerity to these quotidian concerns. But to get to these questions, The Society has to push aside the enigmas at its beginning. Why is there a weird lunar eclipse? What’s up with that odd smell? It takes a frustrating amount of time to get to the point where the show has made it clear it doesn’t care what happened to the adults, not really.
The problem is that while the plot settles into its groove, there’s a distinct lack of characters to draw us into this brave new world; aside from Cassandra, Allie, friendly geek Will (Jacques Colimon) and handful of others, the residents of The Society, despite being well performed by a believable ensemble, take a while to emerge as distinct people i their own right. Instead, creator Christopher Keyser is busy upholding constructs such as High School Prom Night, without really asking why these children feel the need to stick to such routines. More interesting issues of justice, punishment, enforcement begin to rear their heads as the season continues, and the hours are certainly easy to binge through, but for a show about assembling a community, you wish its world-building was more efficient.
The Society: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.