The Wilds. Available December 11 on Amazon Prime Video.
It's December, time for final exams in our weekly Television Appreciation class. (And yes, I'm aware that some of you refer to it as Television DisAppreciation. Just keep it behind my back, please.) First question, multiple choice: Here's the plot—an airliner veers off course in a storm, then crashes just off a craggy desert island, killing the entire crew. The surviving passengers, the moment they crawl up onto the beach, launch into 24/7 bitching, quarreling and howling "Fuck my life!" at the moon. Oh, and somebody is secretly watching. Name the show.
- The film version of Lord Of The Flies, William Goldman's book 1954 novel in which a plane crash on a desert island reveals the inner savagery of English schoolboys.
- A rerelease of ABC's 2004-2010 Lost, in which a plane crash on a desert island spent 121 IQ-sapping episodes revealing how time travel and alternate universes are the most feeble narrative devices in the history of spoken human language.
- The lost (heh-heh) episodes of ABC's 1969-1970 shuck-and-jive bid for the lucrative eyeballs of the emerging youth culture The New People, a show in which a plane carrying a bunch of college kids crashes on a desert island and reveals absolutely nothing at all, since no one ever watched a single episode because its weird 45-minute format made it impossible to remember when to tune in. Bonus points if you knew that Kenny Rogers and the First Edition sang the theme song, although you're lying, because—I cannot stress this strongly enough—no human eyes ever saw a single frameof The New People. I once asked Damon Lindelof, one of Lost's creators, if he had been inspired by The New People. "What new people?" he replied.
- None of the above. That plot description comes from Amazon Prime Video's new drama, The Wilds, which boldly redefines the expression "rip-off" but does it in a fairly entertaining way.
The nine survivors of The Wilds plane crash differ from their predecessors of the past 70 decades in that they're all teenaged girls with highly evolved Gen Z senses of grievance and self-importance. One of them even furiously objects to the use of the word "trauma" by the men who rescued her from the specter of almost inevitable death by starvation on the island. "What was so fucking great about the lives we left behind?" she demands. The Stalinist barbed wire of 11 p.m. curfews and being cut from the national diving team has left deep scars.
By the way, the disclosure that the girls were rescued wasn't a spoiler. That's revealed in the very first shot of the show, which is wrapped in a clever framing story: The girls, back in civilization, are being interviewed about what happened. "This is just a conversation, that's all," cheerfully insists one of interviewers. But his colleague introduces himself as "Agent Brown," a title that almost never means anything good.
The interviews are also peculiar, focusing as much on the girls' home lives as what happened during the crash or on the island afterward. Thus we learn that they were on a charter flight to an upscale girls' summer camp in Hawaii (no, none of them are named Ginger or Mary Ann) to learn leadership and aromatherapy, not necessarily in that order. Their personality quirks seem way more than quirky.
One is a malcontent jock who got kicked off her basketball team for peeing on a rival player; one a bulimic who stuffed her face with chocolate cake as the plane spiraled to its doom. One, white, gets triggered by somebody's innocent use of the word "pow-wow"; another, American Indian, doesn't care. (She also seems unfazed when asked by another girl to say something "in Native American.")
Inevitably, everybody's got a secret, ranging from a Texas beauty-pageant queen hiding false teeth to a withdrawn 17-year-old loner who's secretly the mistress of a best-selling author a couple of decades her senior. Drug dealers, angry closeted lesbians, and a flighty rich girl who's in trouble for texting out her dad's dick pics round out the hidden chapters, which don't stay that hidden very long in the emotional hothouse of survivorship. "This is why I don't get tight with girls," declares one "The drama, the jealousies, the pretty revenge schemes."
The occasional crack like that makes me wonder if series creator and executive producer Sarah Streicher (Daredevil) might be slyly mocking her characters, though most the time she seems to be offering them up at face value. Amazon Prime is promoting the series as "part survival drama, part dystopian slumber party," which is not far off the mark. And like slumber parties, The Wilds bounces around from silly to interesting and back. It's helped by some very good performances, particularly that of Sarah Pidgeon (Gotham) as Leah, the kid who embraces literature literally. I was also heartened by a few scenes in which the Gen Zs don't seem to come from a galaxy quite so far, far away. Who amongst us hasn't stood in a cave and shouted, just to hear "Butthole!" echo off the walls?