James Delingpole

A dog’s breakfast but I’m rather enjoying it: Sky Atlantic’s Yellowjackets reviewed

It’s William Golding meets Alive meets Heathers meets Midsommar meets Bear Grylls

A dog’s breakfast but I’m rather enjoying it: Sky Atlantic's Yellowjackets reviewed
Yellowjackets continually jumps from past to present, from small-town banality to splatter and gore in the Rockies. Image: Kailey Schwerman / Showtime
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Sky Atlantic

It has taken me a while to watch Yellowjackets because I found the premise so offputting: in 1996 a plane carrying a New Jersey girls’ school soccer team crashes in the mountain wilderness, stranding the survivors for nearly two years. Through flashbacks, we learn that the girls went through some kind of Lord of the Flies horror scenario, perhaps including cannibalism and ritualistic tribal sacrifice. All of which might explain why the forty-something women we meet today are so raddled, bitter, secretive, paranoid and messed up.

Perhaps the biggest red flag is the dread memories it invokes of Lost, the plane crash TV series that ran in the Noughties for six seasons but still left you none the wiser as to why you’d bothered watching because none of its mysteries was ever satisfyingly resolved. I really hate being strung along to no purpose, which is why I’m hesitant about committing to that BBC series The Tourist about a man who wakes up from a coma after a Duel-like encounter in the Australian outback with a malevolent trucker. You kind of know that whatever the explanation it’s going to be frustrating and bathetic, and that before you get there there’s going to be an awful lot of meandering, quirky ballroom dancing and red herrings.

At ten hour-long episodes, Yellowjackets is quite a commitment and potentially allows screenwriters Bart Nickerson and Ashley Lyle far too much space for padding. On the upside, though, their previous work includes the excellent Narcos, and they’ve bagged a fine cast of ‘whatever happened to…?’ starlets who were big in the 1990s led by Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis and Melanie Lynskey (from Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures).

Anyway, two episodes in I’m rather enjoying it. Stylistically and tonally it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast, with continual jumping from past to present, from high-school girls being bitchy to middle-aged moms being careworn, from small-town banality to splatter and gore in the Rockies, but such is the nature of the mash-up genre. It’s William Golding meets Alive meets Heathers meets P.J. Harvey and all your favourite 1990s rock goddesses (the soundtrack is great) meets Midsommar meets Bear Grylls. You never get bored, that’s for sure.

I’m wary, though, of giving it too much of a thumbs up at this stage because of my experiences with the maddening, Ricky Gervais-endorsed Midnight Mass, which initially promised to be original and different, but then degenerated into sub-vampire-schlock tedium.

Already, I find myself lightly suspicious of the contrived set-up. For example: how can a plane crash on to a mountain slope of mature conifers without the fuselage and everyone inside being shredded? Where, possibly, is there left in North America where a planeload of schoolgirls could go down and be undiscovered for two years?

And why would they all turn on each other? All right, we know schoolgirls can be horribly cruel and factional, but it does seem a bit of a stretch to believe that after a period in the wilderness they would decide to obscure their faces in sinister animal outfits, form rival tribes and hunt one another down to the death. Lord of the Flies was surely wrong here. Certainly, we know from its closest true-life approximation — the incident in 1965 when six Tongan boys from a Catholic boarding school were marooned for 15 months on a Pacific island — that the survivors co-operated. (One even constructed a rudimentary guitar from half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from a boat.) Their rescuers were amazed at how healthy and muscular they were, even the one whose leg had broken was in remarkable shape.

But I guess that these days TV audiences are so warped that they’d never put up with such feel-good nonsense, even if it were based on a true story. So instead, we have to get trauma and torture and — so far only hinted at rather than stated — some kind of supernatural intervention that has lured the girls to the dark side. The key seems to be the strange geometric symbol first glimpsed carved on to the bark of a tree. If only Dan Brown’s Professor Robert Langdon were available to tell us what it meant. No, wait, that’s an element this mash-up really doesn’t need in the mix. Given, though, that they’ve thrown everything else into the dog’s bowl, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was where the series ended up. It’s why, though I’ll keep watching for the moment, I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve either got to the end — or abandoned it in disgust.