What would you do to do if you find yourself stranded on a desert island? Would you like to gather your surviving comrades around a conch shell? Shout for help? Build a cabin? Or would you like to carve a sharp end on a stick and take it from there?
Imagining how people might behave as castaways has been a mainstay of popular entertainment for centuries. In 1719, the English trader Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe, a fictional autobiography of a man stranded on a tropical island. He launched an enduring literary genre soon dubbed “Robinsonade”. The imaginary island of Defoe wasn’t deserted at all – Robinson meets a thug’s gallery of cannibals and mutineers as he struggles to stay alive – but once Crusoe transported the shipwrecked narrative into popular culture, it never left. Novels on Crusoe themes, like that of Johann David Wyss The Swiss Robinson family or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, have become famous in their own right. More than 300 years later, the Robinsonade flourishes in all media. People just can’t get enough of the hastily assembled oceanfront fires, neo-tribal feuds and SOS messages scrawled in the sand. Not surprising Survivor is in its 40th season, or Lost remains one subject pop culture debate. People can’t get enough. Now they have a new addition to the Robinsonade canon: Amazon The Wilds, a soapy update on the survivalist show.
Like its spiritual predecessor Lost, The Wilds follows a group of plane crash survivors who struggle to stay alive on a desert island full of secrets. And like Lost, the group is a motley group of attractive foreigners from very different backgrounds, and their situation is far more complicated than just an accident. But the castaways of The Wilds have something more in common: they are all teenage girls. Plus, they were all heading to the same upscale Hawaii retreat, an event called Daughters of Eve, due to the recent uproar in their personal lives.
They board the plane in pairs: tomboy Toni and sweetheart Martha are best friends on an Ojibwa reservation in Minnesota, rebellious cello prodigy Fatin and heartbroken romantic Leah are classmates of Berkeley; Rachel and her bookworm twin sister Nora, also from California; Tough Dot and Beauty Queen Shelby are classmates from Texas. (The only solo girl, bubbly Jeanette, does not survive the first episode.) After the jet weakens, the girls lose consciousness and wake up either stranded on the island’s shores or clinging to debris in the ocean. .
Each girl brings her own story of trauma to the island; it’s a little absurd how distressed they all are. The menu of secrets is extensive and comprehensive; sexual abuse, suicide, rape, eating disorders, parental neglect, homophobia, poverty and death have shaken the recent lives of our heroes. The show could easily crumble under the staggering weight of its avalanche of teenage fits, but it doesn’t. The more overworked elements are offset by carefully written relationships between the girls and refined performances from the young cast, especially Martha (Jenna Clause) and Shelby (Mia Healey), who form a demographically unlikely friendship and both have a deep shame about their past behavior.
The story features flashbacks filling out each girl’s backstory and explaining how she ended up on the island, as well as flash-forwards to what happens immediately after their rescue. It also comes from the perspective of Dawn of Eve founder Gretchen Klein, a girlboss-type schemer played by Rachel Griffiths. Let me rule this out: The Wilds is a crowded story. Sometimes it feels like the product of a presentation meeting where nervous creatives kept adding extravagant twist after weird twist to convince executives that it was exciting enough to give the green light. In addition, some dialogues are obviously wacky. (In the first episode, a cranky Leah growls, “If we talk about what happened there, then yes, there was trauma. But being a teenager in normal America? the real hell. “) its flaws, however, The Wilds has more than enough charm to thrive. Shot on location in New Zealand, this is a television show of rare beauty. And although the convoluted scenario tilts right on the verge of ridiculousness, The Wilds slightly carries its soapy quality. It doesn’t compete for puzzle box status; instead, he reveals his secrets generously and in the blink of an eye. Like all Robinsonade stories, it raises questions about how people act when they are removed from everyday society and fallen into an extreme scenario. But because it’s as much a teen drama as it is a survival story, The Wilds also raises more recent questions. It doesn’t resonate Lord of the Flies but rather Pretty Little Liars, pairing a campy genre sensibility with captivating portrayals of the shifting understandings and quick-money betrayals of teenagers.