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wiener-dog (todd solondz, 2016)

yellowjackets

I have created almost 50 categories for the posts on this blog, which at one point indicated what I hoped was some breadth to my posts. Nowadays, it's movie, movies, movies, music Friday. And the movie stuff is cross-posted to Letterboxd, where it gets more views. There are more than a dozen categories that haven't seen a post since 2020. OK, my interests change. But it seems as I get older, my writing has narrowed.

Television has always been a frequent topic for me, but that has faded in recent years, as I watch more movies than ever and ... well, I'm not sure why, to be honest. I'm still watching TV, but I'm not writing about it as often. Recently, I've been watching As We See It, Station Eleven, Yellowjackets, Squid Game, The White Lotus, Loki, and Euphoria. A few of these are ripe for a post or two, especially Euphoria, but I've gotten lazy.

Things may be changing. The great Tim Goodman is back, after a longish hiatus from TV reviewing. He has a Substack, Tim Goodman/Bastard Machine, and not only is he offering some of his writing, he also has a couple of community projects, including something he calls "The Box Set", which involves everyone watching episodes of a series, one a week, and commenting on what we've seen. The first two are Station Eleven, and Collateral (which is a few years ago).

What does this have to do with Yellowjackets, which finished its first season just before Tim's Substack started? Well, taking part in the Box Set comments has me thinking again about writing about television. And during the discussion of the first episode of Collateral, I noted that "so much television today has a kind of flash, both visual and narrative" that Collateral, a BBC series of high quality but seemingly less flash, may be unfairly underestimated because it doesn't beat you over the head like, say, Euphoria. (Underestimated by me, that is.) I wondered if shows like Euphoria and Yellowjackets are training me to expect something different from TV now.

Yellowjackets isn't overly flashy, by the way. Most of the structural complexity comes from its two timelines, within which it shifts regularly. In 1996, a high-school girls soccer team, traveling to a big competition, sees their plane crash in the wilderness. In 2021, we follow the lives of the survivors of the crash and its aftermath. Kudos to casting directors Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson for getting perhaps the most important thing out of the way: casting the characters as teenagers and as adults. The matches are very good, even uncanny at times. Melanie Lynskey (Shauna) and Sophie Nélisse (teen Shauna) ... not sure what's going on, Nélisse does faintly resemble Lynskey, but she also is excellent at making us believe they are the same character. The same goes for Juliette Lewis and Sophie Thatcher, although here the writing helps ... the roots of adult Natalie are found in what we see of Teen Natalie. Maybe the easiest match is Christina Ricci and Sammi Hanratty as adult/teen Misty ... Misty has curly blonde hair and wears glasses, so a wig and a prop connects the two actresses. (They are great, in any event.)

There is a second level to the structure, in that both timelines contain the kind of mysteries that invite speculation. There's the question of what really happened to the girls in the wilderness, and there's the question of who might be blackmailing the adults in 2021. The very first scene shows an unidentified girl running away from some unknown danger ... she falls into a pit that has been set with stakes that kill her. We want to know who she is ... we want to know why she was running ... we want to know if there is any specific connection to what we see in 2021. Most of the speculation surrounds Jackie (a fine Ella Purnell), the only main teen who doesn't seem to have an adult presence in 2021. We can figure that she doesn't get out alive, and it's easy to imagine that's her running in the first scene.

Yellowjackets does a little bait-and-switch on the audience. We do learn what happened to Jackie, we do find out who the possible blackmailer is, but each answer leads to more questions, which of course means Season Two already has us in its clutches before it's even been made. If you are only watching Yellowjackets for the mysteries, you might be let down, even though the setup for Season Two is intriguing.

But ultimately, the core of the show lies in its characters (and the acting of those characters), and it rewards viewers throughout. I'm not as interested in What Next than I am in the characters. Either way, I'm looking forward to another season.

Here's the first episode:

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