The Wilds: On An Island In The Sun

It’s been awhile and I thought it would be nice to check in. There sure is a lot of television to watch, which is a good thing while it lasts. With the world in the state it is, there’s plenty of time to binge watch any and everything and I’m even tempted to get an Apple TV subscription, even though I find the concept morally and ethically repugnant. But there’s Ted Lasso! However, the will to watch something brand new hasn’t exactly manifested, instead I’ve been rewatching old favorites. I even discovered I have an HBO Max subscription in addition to my HBO Now and the most remarkable thing about that addition is there is almost nothing in that massive collection of media that I have any interest in. Way to go, Warner Media, I will be enjoying your theatrical releases at home next year.

The primary reason for my recursive viewing habits is your generally depressed state of mind, I get that chronic Seasonal Affective Disorder and with all that’s been going on, it hit with a real vengeance this December. So I stick with what’s familiar, with what won’t trigger the sad faceys or, you know, an existential crisis. But after stumbling across a positive review from a site that I trust I decided to give The Wilds a shot, based on the interesting premise and not because I’m a pervert or something.

Nine teenage girls are trapped on a deserted island after a plane crash and… now, wait, wait, hold on. I said I was not a pervert and I meant it. In this regard, anyway. The show’s creator and most of the writers and directors are women and there are none of the typical attempts to sexualize any of the actresses. They have sexuality, from the more conservative to the very much not that, but it’s in no way a byproduct of titillation (heh), rather than one of the many ways that each of them, coming from all different walks of life, are humanized.

I’d have to share the sentiment that the review that inspired my viewing also shared; this is not going to blow the doors off the pop culture establishment, it’s not a watershed moment in TV history, and is flawed in a handful of small, inside baseball kind of ways. Stuff that only nerds like me, who rewatches something like The West Wing at least once a year, for fun, will notice in terms of shot selection, dialogue, story logic. But nitpickery aside, The Wilds is a very good television show, with a lot of heart, an intriguing premise that it mostly effectively explores, and a uniquely feminine story perspective that is becoming more and more commonplace thanks to a certain movement.

I like that movement and it’s effects on popular culture and not because I’m trying to impress some Women’s Lib chicks or anything, obviously, I just used the word ‘chicks‘. I like stories from a new or different perspective because, hmm, let me try and find the words to explain succinctly…because they are new and/or different. I do not understand the brand of internet troll that get bent out of shape because female or minority characters are empowered or stories are now being told from their viewpoint, who shout WOKE BULLSHIT on whatever message board will have them. I could not be less impressed with people who object to inclusiveness or progressive concepts in storytelling or strong female characters, even if it occasionally fails, he said, looking in the direction of Rey…”Skywalker”.

And it does fail here and there, because when it’s artificial and token I understand the hostility, but The Wilds is neither of those things. If it were just about some teens trying to survive on coconuts and berries that have complimentary personalities or skillsets, that find friendship and each other, if this were The Breakfast Club crossed with Cast Away, I’d be far less inclined to write about it. I mean, it kind of is those things, exploring each character’s history and pathos via flashback a la Lost but with one fewer Smoke Monster but it is also satisfying and addictive, if a little bit of a stretch practically. Because there is more going on on the island than there appears. There is a mystery afoot. The premise is…sus.

Did I use that reference correctly? I don’t play videogames with other people or lie which is what I believe is the whole point of Among Us and I only know that because of Reddit. So I will give away the one minor spoiler that is revealed in the pilot episode and really needs to be in order to sufficiently drum up interest: the girls are alone on the island but they are being monitored by electronic, possibly nefarious means. How does that work? Well, that’s all you get from me.

In all honesty, it was a few episodes of the 10 episode first season before I really set my phone down and felt invested, through no fault of anyone involved. Such is the risk of an ensemble cast, each episode spends more time with one character at a time, so it’s essentially like watching a series of first episodes. This is only detrimental if your attention span is as short as mine is nowadays (second shout out to Reddit), but by the end of the season I found the quality I was looking for. One of my favorite things that good television can do is surprise the audience’s expectations with regard to which character they sympathize with and how. I like to think of Jon Bernthal’s character in The Walking Dead, back when I still cared about that show. I remember hating him so much, I fumed at everyone for not seeing what was happening to him. Then his character was killed off and I suddenly lost interest in the whole thing. It was immediately apparent that even though he was loathsome, Shane was the most interesting part of the entire show. He had an arc and affected the characters around him as opposed to everyone else who just seem to have things happen to them.

The Wilds does this really well. I found myself most interested in the character that I least liked originally. I found the strong characters in the beginning the most flawed and the boring characters suddenly tragic. It brought to mind one of the best examples of this kind of social experiment, the science fiction film Cube which similarly examined the effect of an extraordinary, high stress situation on conventional personality types. The Wilds takes that experiment and adds another element, one I will definitely not spoil, that keeps the thrills and twists coming all the way through.

So without being too…sus myself, (I’ll stop) I’m going to suggest sitting down with the 10 episode first season now streaming on Amazon Prime, but do yourself a favor. Take notes on who everyone is at first and then take a look at that list at the end. This is something I wish that I’d done on my first go around because it’s all the more rewarding when the storytellers effectively pull the wool over your eyes, like a well executed magic trick. And even if the mystery isn’t your thing, there’s still a series of well told stories about well realized characters at the heart of this maze. Or is there?

(That was confusing, yes, there are.)

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