Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Wilds, on Amazon

"Man is born free and everywhere in chains," Rousseau proclaimed. Dr. Gretchen Klein would say that is especially true for women--you know, the whole patriarchy thing. She is the shadowy mastermind behind the secret of the latest riff on (or rip-off of) Lost. Her group of “troubled” teens have no idea why they have been deliberately shipwrecked, but slowly one of them starts to suspect something of a conspiratorial nature in creator Sarah Streicher’s The Wilds, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

They were supposed to be going to a leadership camp in Hawaii that most of the young women probably could not have afforded on their own. Unfortunately, their plane never made it, but nobody can remember anything after the initial turbulence. When they come to, they find themselves stranded on a desert island without their top five records to listen to. They only have a motley assortment of supplies from the plane crash that washed up on shore. As it happens, the tide’s convenient habit of supplying exactly what they happen to need is what first arouses Leah Rilke’s suspicions.

Rilke is definitely the most intuitive of the group. She is also exhaustingly self-destructive and admittedly prone to paranoia. Frankly, being stuck on a small island with her would be an honest-to-gosh nightmare. Of course, it does not help that she has been deliberately thrown together with a collection of extreme stereotypes. Shelby Goodkind is the sort of evangelical Texas beauty queen who could only be envisioned by a San Francisco Democratic club. (Seriously, maybe the only time anyone connected to
The Wilds ever talked to someone from a red state was when they connected a flight through DFW.)

Dot Campbell is probably the worthiest rooting interest. She endured a lot, none of which was her fault. As a fan of survival reality TV, she is also the best equipped to deal with their situation. “Privileged” party girl Fatin Jadmani (openly rebelling against her strict Muslim upbringing) hardly deigns to respond at all. Aspiring Olympian Rachel Reid has strength and stamina that will come in handy, but her quirky, socially awkward sister Nora has all the brains. As a out-and-proud lesbian and an angry product of the foster system, Toni Shalifoe is guaranteed to conflict with Goodkind. Usually, her loyal bestie Martha Blackburn tries to restrain Shalifoe, but she also has no respect or tolerance Goodkind’s religious faith.

Yet, somehow, they all must work together to survive. None of them has any idea of the bigger picture—unless one of them is in on it, as Rilke naturally suspects. Klein watches it all happen via surveillance cameras, for reasons we are not supposed to reveal, but become pretty clear sometime during the second episode.

If you are looking for something to hate-binge,
The Wilds might be a “good” candidate. This show is very full of itself, but it is really just mediocre teen melodrama. Frankly, the most interesting scenes feature Klein and her circle of characters. Honestly, it is a relief whenever we get off the lousy island, even though it is distasteful to watch Klein toy with eight unwitting guinea pigs for the sake of her utopian schemes (after ten episodes, it is still unclear whether Streicher and the battery of writers understands that too).

It is all supposed to involve a critique of the “patriarchy,” but what we see from the island and Klein’s cabal does not inspire much confidence in a “matriarchy.” The truth is, whenever a film or show like
Black Christmas tries to “strike a blow against the patriarchy,” it ends up doing the exact opposite, because the patriarchy never forced anyone to sit through didactic sermons that undermine whatever entertainment value their vehicles might have had.

Such is the case here, but at least Rachel Griffiths is great fun to watch chewing the scenery, as Klein. Likewise, Troy Winbush and David Sullivan are quite effective cranking up the intrigue, as the two interrogators pulling the narrative out of the girls via flashbacks. To their credit, the young ensemble faithfully performs all that is asked of them, but so much of it is awkwardly cringey (too often in sexual ways, especially considering these characters are underage). However, Shannon Berry and Erana James (who was also quite good in
The Changeover) manage to make Campbell and Shalifoe feel believably real and credible.

The overall ratio of overheated angst to genuinely shocking revelations is way too high in
The Wilds. The series just isn’t as smart or original as it thinks. After a few episodes, it gets to be like the obnoxious family member at Thanksgiving dinner who won’t stop talking about their pet issue: “patriarchy this and patriarchy that.” Now imagine ten episodes of that. Not recommended, The Wilds now streams on Amazon Prime.