Review

There's no growing old in the YA thriller 'Between'

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
Forever 21, or even 21? Not in Netflix's new thriller 'Between,' which targets anybody old enough to drink

It's odd that Netflix should choose the Canadian YA thriller "Between" as its first episodic series. The television-viewing public, already groaning beneath the weight of its DVR queues, may, indeed, be questioning the Netflix full-season dump.

Honestly, how many of us are prepared to binge-watch 10 hours of television in one go? Or two? Or three? But if you're going to introduce a weekly drop, you'd do better with a show that at least a few people outside the hard-core Jennette McCurdy fan base might want to watch.

McCurdy, for those not part of that fan base, is a former Nickelodeon star, best known for her role as the spiky Sam Puckett in "iCarly" and its spinoff, "Sam & Cat." "Between" provides her with her first lead role in a non-Kids' Choice contender. It also, unfortunately, demands that she enter in full Ellen Page.

Introduced dropping ironic bon mots as she navigates her belly through the high school corridors, McCurdy's Wiley is not just a wise-crackin' pregnant teen. She is also a minister's daughter and the reluctant heroine of this mid-apocalypse drama about a town where everyone over 21 dies.

Swiftly, and inexplicably, I might add, though that should be obvious. Creators Michael McGowan and Jon Cassar spend most of the pilot, the only episode of the six ordered that Netflix made available, introducing young people and killing off their parents. (Just chill out, old folks; Mother's Day was, like, two weeks ago!)

There's Wiley and her super-religious sister, an MIT-brilliant best friend, a bratty rich kid, a couple of thuggish drug dealers, a heroic veterinarian, a very blue-eyed prisoner and some other guys running around in pickup trucks. It's difficult to keep everyone straight in the first hour's Silly String battle of exposition. Even Wiley would be hard to locate were she not so enormously pregnant.

As is too often the case in Strange Days narratives, everything happens quite quickly — those old enough to drink legally start dying, the government initiates a quarantine, and the town is soon surrounded by a fence and what appears to be the entire Canadian Special Ops team (who knew?), all prepared to execute anyone attempting to escape.

So here we are then. Idyllic town now surrounded by a fence ("Wayward Pines," "The Dome"), a weird pandemic ("The Strain"), a band of cranky misfits left to fend for themselves ("Lost") and a pregnant gal ("Walking Dead").

The town is lovely, the premise solid if overfamiliar, but the script lacks both depth and tension (big problem), and McCurdy is one of the few cast members who can act. All of which makes it difficult to care very much.

Also, the parameters of this particular pandemic should leave a lot of orphaned infants, toddlers and actual kids (as opposed to Attractive Young People) in need of assistance, which makes "Between" both genuinely horrifying and logistically problematic. Never mind the breakdown of civilization or whatever; just keeping a bunch of traumatized youngsters clean and fed should occupy the combined attentions of the survivors.

A mass-scale "Nanny 911" does not appear to be where "Between" is going, however. "The Dome" meets "The Hunger Games" meets "Logan's Run" is more like it, which makes "Between" precisely the sort of show that would benefit most from the binge. What happens appears far more interesting than how it happens, and even that doesn't seem worth a five-week wait.

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'Between'

Where: Netflix

When: Anytime, starting Thursday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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