Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: No one knows who invented Panic or when it first began. But in the forgotten rural town of Carp, Texas, the game is the only way out. Every summer the graduating seniors risk their lives competing in a series of challenges that force them to confront their deepest fears for the chance to win life-changing money. Anyone can play. Only one will win. Let the games begin.
Review: Written and created by Lauren Oliver, who also happens to be the author of the eponymous novel the series is based off, Panic isn’t usually the kind of television show I would watch. Not that I have anything against YA adaptations but let’s face it—most of them are so similar to each other they could swap titles and pretty much no one would notice. Still, something about the poster grabbed my attention. Maybe it was the girl falling or the one word title set in big bold yellow letters. Or maybe it was all in the name, as my Dad always said to me growing up, “Nothing kills you faster than panic”. Whatever it was, I gave Season 1 the old binge treatment last weekend and wouldn’t you know it? Panic has just enough of a good thing going for it that I decided to share my thoughts with you lovely people. So let’s take a look at Panic.
I always deliver the good news first so I’ll start by saying Panic does a great job of taking a seemingly straightforward and simple storyline and adding enough mystery, intrigue, and suspense to make you want to see it through to the end.
Like most small towns Carp, Texas has a dark underbelly, and one that seems to focus squarely on the high school graduates that will do anything to get away from their (perceived) terrible lives. It all hinges on a game that someone (nobody knows who) invented called “Panic”, where challenges or dares are put forth and it’s up to the contestants to beat each one and make it to the end where a huge prize (in this case, $50,000) awaits the winner. There’s almost a Saw-like element to these games and you quickly come to realise how dangerous they are and how much damage, both mentally and physically, can be done. I love how the stakes kept getting higher as the story went along and our players (and the lead characters of this story) all have secrets they don’t want anyone to know, that ultimately are exposed along the way.
The actors here are mostly unknown, something I tend to appreciate because it’s so much easier to accept someone in a role when you’re not comparing them to other characters they’ve played in the past. All of these young actors do fine with their parts but a few stood out from the pack. Olivia Welch plays lead heroine Heather Nill, an aspiring writer who comes from a poverty-stricken life and works tirelessly to save enough money to put herself through school, only to have her less-than-stellar Mom steal it, forcing her into becoming a challenger in Panic. Then there’s Ray Nicholson who plays Ray Hall. These two have the kind of chemistry young readers and young adults go crazy for and Ray’s rakish ne’er-do-well attitude hides a lot of pain and depth which the actor does a wonderful job of conveying as the series goes along. Enrique Murciano as Sheriff Cortez, Moira Kelly as his wife Melanie, Jessica Sula and Camron Jones as Heather’s best friends Natalie and Bishop respectively all do wonderful jobs delivering in their roles and their characters’ twists and turns as the series goes along helps take them from one note clichés into full-blown personas.
Another aspect of the show that worked for me was the premise is a lot darker than I expected. When I found out this was based on a YA novel, I figured I pretty much knew what to expect (and in a lot of ways I was right) yet the further along the show went the darker things got. And I give them props for not holding back when they could’ve easily PG-13ed the hell out of this show.
Now where things go off the rails a bit, as is the case in most stories stretched out to become television shows, is in the “padding” that occurs during the middle, in this case the middle episodes of Panic. Even the best of shows tend to fall in this hole from time to time, where you just want them to get to the good stuff but you’re forced to hear some backstory about some character that really doesn’t do anything to enhance the story. It’s just there so they can deliver 10 episodes instead of eight. Panic would’ve benefited from having a lot of this fat sliced off and I for one think this story could’ve easily been told in eight episodes, making for a tenser, more engaging watch.
There’s also the reality factor. I had to suspend my belief a lot when it came to the events that occurred here, as the Sheriff and his deputies try to put a stop to the game but are outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the teenagers at every turn. It’s a bit hard to believe in a town THIS small, where everyone knows everyone and there isn’t much going on, the police could never figure out where and when a game was happening. Now they do address this by showing us just how far the game’s “judges” will go to protect the game (everything is coded and the contestants have to figure out riddles to know what comes next, phones get confiscated during challenges, and everyone is warned not to talk about Panic) but this is a bunch of kids we’re talking about. Do you REALLY think in this day and age not one of the dozens of bystanders who watch the games go down wouldn’t have snuck a phone or posted about Panic online?! Like I said, suspension of disbelief is necessary to watch this all unfold.
Overall though, Panic, with its strong acting, engaging characters, intriguing premise, and Russian nesting doll of mysteries upon mysteries unfolding, has enough positives going for it that I’m not only willing to watch another season, but I would also recommend giving it a go if you’ve been searching for something new to binge.
Yes none of the teenagers look like teenagers (more like college aged kids if you asked me) and yes, they do go a bit overboard at times with some hard-to-believe moments that would’ve fit perfectly into a show like, say, Riverdale. But even with its flaws, I’m on board for another round. As one character points out in the final episode, “You might be done with Panic, but is Panic done with you?”
Sommer’s Score 6.5 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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