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Yellowjackets would be a hit on Netflix, but it's more compelling as a weekly release on Showtime

  • The Showtime drama about members of a girls' soccer team who survive a plane crash in the wilderness in 1996 "moves with ferocious speed," says Philip Maciak. "It’s built on the recognizable architecture of bloody puzzle-box ancestors like Lost and The OA, but, starting with a breathless pilot directed by home-run hitter Karyn Kusama, the show cultivates an aesthetic rooted in particularities. From the teen-mixtape soundtrack to the Gen-X icon casting to the hellacious moments of semi-comic ultraviolence, Yellowjackets is a messy, horny ode to a very specific suburban punk vision of the ’90s. When you see Juliette Lewis pointing a loaded rifle at Christina Ricci and Hole and Liz Phair are prominently featured on the soundtrack, you know what kind of party you’re at. Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, Yellowjackets is full of mysteries, but it’s by no means breaking new ground. In fact, notwithstanding its Clinton-era nostalgia, the show feels like a throwback to a much more recent time—a time when all the citizens of the discourse would plop down on their couches every Sunday night because they had no earthly idea what was going to happen in the fictional land of Westeros. But nights like those are long gone." Sure, Maciak notes, Showtime's rival HBO currently has a weekly lineup of must-see shows (Succession, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Insecure) but they've all become predictable as "they revisit the same scenes, replay the same interactions, return, on purpose or by accident, to the same kinds of moments again and again." Yellowjackets, meanwhile, "slowly reveals itself to be both more complex and more muddled," says Maciak. "Each episode, so far, has seen the series transform its own genre in ways that produce plenty of uneasiness and narrative tension on their own. Sometimes it’s a haunted-house, political thriller; sometimes it’s a cabin-in-the-woods slasher; sometimes it’s a semi-satirical feminist suburban revenge comedy; sometimes it’s an odd couple, buddy cop, road trip adventure. Whether the show’s baseline understanding of itself is in constant, generative flux or in tailspin, Yellowjackets’ instability is precisely what makes it so fun to watch week in and week out. The singularity of a show like Yellowjackets at this moment isn’t solely due to its style. It’s due to its distribution model. There have been, in fact, plenty of other series this year as invested in episode-by-episode puzzlements as Yellowjackets; they just haven’t aired weekly. Squid Game, Underground Railroad, Maid, Midnight Mass—these are shows wholly animated by deep mysteries, games-within-games, shocking revelations, fates in peril. But they all dropped at once. For a 10-hour alternative history of American slavery, Underground Railroad’s single-season drop felt like a burial rather than the unveiling of a televisual masterpiece, but for pulpy genre romps like Squid Game and Midnight Mass, the open-the-floodgates approach was a huge rush. If a full season of Yellowjackets had dropped last weekend on Netflix, it’s all anybody would be talking about right now."

    TOPICS: Yellowjackets, Netflix, Showtime, Binge Watching