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Yellowjackets is pulling off a Prestige TV version of Pretty Little Liars

  • Vox

    The key to the Showtime horror survival series is its connection to teen TV, says Constance Grady. "As Vox critic-at-large Emily VanDerWerff has already argued, part of the alchemy of Yellowjackets is the way it slams the conventions of different TV genres up against one another," says Grady. "The show combines the sort of puzzle-box mystery show plotting popularized by Lost with astute psychological excavations of trauma along the lines of a show like Succession, plus a healthy amount of good old-fashioned horror stemming from its Lord of the Flies-style premise. It seems built to inspire equal amounts of fan theorizing about its mysteries, analytical essays about how trauma shapes character, and shared notes on how many nightmares it has inspired among its fans. But I’d like to argue that in addition to its pedigreed antecedents, Yellowjackets is also pulling some tropes from a rather less-respected genre. A surprising amount of Yellowjackets’s structure seems to be borrowed from the microgenre of teen soap operas about sexy teens being blackmailed over their sexy secrets; teen shows about surveillance; teen shows that treat secrets as weapons and social capital as the stuff of life-and-death stakes. Specifically, Yellowjackets is pulling an awful lot from Pretty Little Liars, the campy Freeform drama that ran from 2010 to 2017. Pretty Little Liars gives Yellowjackets two of its central mysteries: the question of what happened to the alpha girl at the top of a friend group, and the identity of a mysterious and apparently all-knowing blackmailer. Looking into what the two shows have in common reveals a lot about the emotional ambivalence at the heart of a friendship that gives teen girl horror its teeth — and about how Yellowjackets is thinking about its core emotional dynamic."


    • Yellowjackets is teaching Gen Z what it's like to be a Lost fan: "At the risk of horrifically dating myself, I was two months shy of my sixth birthday when the Lost pilot premiered in 2004," says AJ McDougall. "Everything I know about that cherished tropical clusterf*ck could fit neatly on the back of a 'Wish You Were Here!' postcard, sent from somewhere deep in the Canadian Rockies. Which, conveniently, is the stretch of wilderness where roughly half of the new series Yellowjackets takes place. The new Showtime series follows the Yellowjackets, an undefeated high school girls’ soccer team in New Jersey. The pack is headed to the 1996 Nationals when the plane they’re traveling in crashes. With little hope of rescue, Something Awful happens out there in the woods, and the girls—the ones who survive, anyway—are hounded by it well into disaffected adulthood." McDougall adds: "Lost, as I understand it, not only transfigured television, but the way fans talk about television. On Wednesdays, every street corner came alive with people attempting to decode the twists and turns of that night’s episode. Fans brought physical notes into schools and offices to discuss with their friends. A handful of valiant souls, as a symptom of their Lost fever, forged into the then-brave new world of podcasting. And then, of course, there was the unprecedented avalanche of forums, fan sites, and IRC channels, in which an episode could be discussed in real time as it aired. Like critic Alan Sepinwall wrote in his book The Revolution Was Televised, though Lost may not have invented the art of discussing TV on the internet, it may have perfected it. And Yellowjackets, though its nine-week-old fan culture is still taking its first tottering steps, may reinvent it. The show feels like it’s teetering on the edge of an explosion into mainstream popularity, and with it, the next epoch in the evolution of fandom. Every Sunday, thousands of Yellowjackets fans gather on Twitter and Reddit to do exactly what Losties were doing in the mid-aughts: talk about that group of plane crash survivors in the remote wilds who are haunted by menacing, possibly supernatural occurrences. They aren’t officially called ‘the Hive’ yet, but they’re already swarming in patterns not only reminiscent of Lost-lovers, but also the avid viewers of other mystery-driven cultural phenomena."
    • Poor Coach Ben: Steven Krueger's character is "the lone adult left in the Canadian wilderness with the high school girls soccer team," says Miles Surrey. "Unfortunately that means he’s an outsider, too."
    • Yellowjackets may have TV's best theme song (until Succession returns)
    • Why this week's Yellowjackets was Melanie Lynskey's favorite episode of the season
    • Yellowjackets cast and crew are awed by Juliette Lewis' ability to conjure unpredictability: “She’s like a live wire when she’s working,” says executive producer Karyn Kusama, who directed the first episode of Yellowjackets. “She’s one of the more instinctive and instinctual actors I’ve ever worked with. I learned pretty quickly on the pilot, I was never going to get the same take twice.” Lynskey recalls scene, late in the season. Their characters “have this antagonistic sort of relationship, there’s a lot of sniping back and forth,” says Lynskey. But in one take, “I made this choice to look at her and just check in if she’s OK, and the moment I looked at her, she burst into tears. That’s how present she is, how on the verge of emotion she is, at all times.”

    TOPICS: Yellowjackets, Showtime, Lost, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, Steven Krueger