REVIEW: “All that I know is, what happened out there was a terrible tragedy. Some of these kids…it would be no big loss. But those kids were special, they were champions.”
Like the rest of the New Jersey town, even 25 years on, vice-principal Berzonsky (Tony Winters) is still haunted by the events of 1996, when Wiskayok High School’s successful girls’ soccer team were involved in an event that left some dead and the rest traumatised.
Told via an I, Tonya-esque mix of “interviews” and more traditional narrative, albeit one that shuffles back and forth between two time periods, the 10-part Yellowjackets (which arrives on Neon today, Tuesday, before debuting on SoHo at 9.30pm on Sunday night) looks at Star Ledger reporter Jessica Roberts’ (Rekha Sharma) attempts to get the survivors to open up about what really happened – and their determination to keep their long-held secrets just that.
“Do you want other people telling your story? People who barely knew you and can make a lot of money out of it,” Roberts pleads with Shauna Sheridan (Melanie Lynskey). But despite promises of seven-figure book advances, “the kind of money that could change a life”, the former elite athlete and straight-A student, whose daily highlights now seemingly include watching television quiz shows and “interactions” with rabbits both ceramic and more mechanical, isn’t budging. “I know what you want to hear, but the truth is, a plane crashed, a few of my friends died and the rest of us starved and scavenged and prayed for 19 months until they found us.”
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As that set-up suggests, Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s (Dispatches From Everywhere, The Originals) juicy premise is very much pitching itself as a kind of Lost-meets-Mare of Easttown, by way of Now and Then, Cruel Summer and The Wilds, Lord of theFlies-esque behaviour is teased throughout the opening episode (directed with flair and no small amount of swagger by Destroyer’s Karyn Kusama), as we also learn about each of the key members of the team, both back in high school and today.
As one might expect, their fortunes have been mixed: one is now a state senator seeking re-election, Tawny Cypress’ Taissa Turner, while others have been institutionalised, either as caregivers (Christina Ricci’s Misty) or patients (Juliette Lewis’ Natalie).
But even before the events of that fateful flight, it’s clear that there were tensions within the squad. While galvanised by the town’s sexism that saw the school’s less-than-50-per-cent-winning-record baseball team more feted by local businesses, concerns that some weren’t pulling their weight had resulted in a horrific training ground injury that debate still rages around whether was an accident.
At once fast-paced and slow-burning, Yellowjackets benefits from some smart casting between the younger and older versions of the characters and the impressive eclectic ensemble of former ‘90s “stars” that have been gathered together.
Throw in an evocative soundtrack that, in the first instalment includes classic cuts by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, the Smashing Pumpkins and Inxs, and the result is an intriguing cocktail that could well become the talk of early summer.
Yellowjackets begins streaming on Neon today (Tuesday) and will debut on SoHo at 9.30pm on Sunday, November 21.