Showtime’s ‘Yellowjackets’ Is Your Next TV Obsession
This twisty survival horror series will get under your skin.
Karyn Kusama’s cult classic horror film Jennifer’s Body opens with the line, “Hell is a teenage girl.” It’s a poignant yet visceral reminder of the high stakes of girlhood, where hormones and emotions turn everyday dramas into apocalyptic-level crises. Every snub from a former friend, every romantic rejection, every teasing taunt takes on a mythic status, and those wounds leave scars that carry on well into adulthood. But some scars never truly heal, not really, and that’s especially the case for the women of Showtime’s intense new survival horror series Yellowjackets.
The series (executive produced by Kusama, who directs the pilot episode) follows two parallel storylines. In 1996, New Jersey girls high school soccer team the Yellowjackets win State, and are off to compete in Nationals in Seattle. The team includes pretty popular girl and team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell), her overlooked best friend, straight A student Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), awkward and bullied coach’s assistant Misty (Samantha Hanratty), intense and closeted overachiever Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and anti-social burnout Natalie (Sophie Thatcher).
But during the flight, something horrific happens: the plane crashes deep in the Canadian wilderness, killing most of the adults on board and several girls. The team soon realizes that they are on their own, so they struggle to care for their wounded, forage for food, and find shelter. The high school hierarchy is overturned, as Jackie’s leadership skills fail her while Misty’s first aid knowledge and calm in the crisis suddenly raises her stock among the surviving girls. An ominous flash forward however, shows that in the 19 months before they were rescued, very bad things began to happen. Things like wilderness cults, human traps, and ritualistic cannibalism.
The second storyline finds these four girls 25 years later, now grown women who are still haunted by their ordeal in the woods and the secrets they keep. Some handle the trauma better than others: Shauna (Melanie Lynsky) is a quietly angry mom and homemaker married to Jackie’s old boyfriend, while Taissa (Tawny Cypress) is running for state senate. But others, like Natalie (Juliette Lewis) are finishing another stint in rehab. Misty (Christina Ricci) seems the most unchanged, still aggressively, offputtingly chipper and working at a nursing home.
An all-female Lord of the Flies is a compelling idea, one that was similarly explored in Amazon’s The Wilds. Yellowjackets, which was created by Ashley Lyle (Dispatches From Elsewhere) and Bart Nickerson (Narcos: Mexico), is similarly inspired by Lost and other genre mysteries. The adult women are brought back together when they begin receiving threatening post cards from an anonymous sender, who they assume is threatening to spills the secrets of what happened in the wilderness.
The series features a phenomenal cast, both in the young actors and the grown women, which includes 90’s icons like Ricci and Lewis. But it’s Lynskey’s Shauna, a quiet and enigmatic housewife hiding a deep reservoir of simmering rage, who commands the screen. Lynksey (Heavenly Creatures, Togetherness) is often the best part of everything she’s involved in, and it’s thrilling to finally see her in a series worthy of her talents. Ricci is also an adept scene stealer, channeling comedic chaos with her frighteningly capable character.
The series sets an intense tone, straddling the line between gruesome violence, supernatural mystery, and dark comedy. And while not every subplot works (I could do without Taissa’s creepy kid or Shauna’s romance), Yellowjackets artfully encapsulates the teen girl rage of the ’90s and the low boiling anger of adulthood. The series also engages with the angry girl music of its era, leading to some fantastic needle drops from Tracy Bonham, Alanis Morissette, and Liz Phair.
There’s so much to enjoy about Yellowjackets, and I can’t wait to see where the series takes us.
Yellowjackets is currently available on Showtime.
(image: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)
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