Trust us: It’s time to catch up on ‘Yellowjackets,’ your next TV obsession

The teenage survivors of a plane crash sit around a fire in the wilderness
“Yellowjackets” follows a group of teenage girls who survive a plane crash and are stranded in the wilderness for 19 months.
(Kailey Schwerman / Showtime)

Call it a cross between “Lord of the Flies” and “Heathers.” Or the Spice Girls meet the Donner Party. Or my horrible high school years retold in a blood-spattered forest. Showtime’s suspenseful psychological thriller “Yellowjackets” is many things, including my favorite new mystery drama of the year. I can only hope the series continues to build as it has over the last four episodes as the hourlong drama moves into 2022.

If you’ve missed it, don’t worry. You really haven’t. It’s on a premium cable network that doesn’t garner as much hype as HBO or enjoy the global scale of a streamer like Netflix. It airs weekly, meaning the story, and the conversations it’s generating among a growing community of “Yellowjackets” sleuths, are far from finished.

Created and executive produced by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (both of “Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico”), the series alternates between 1996 and the present day as it follows members of New Jersey’s state champion Yellowjackets, one of the nation’s top-ranked girls’ high school soccer teams. On their way to a championship game in Seattle, their plane crashes somewhere in the wilds of Ontario, Canada, where they’re stranded for 19 months. In their fight for survival, madness descends upon the group. Mean girl competitiveness grows into a ruthless hierarchy, replete with guerrilla warfare, black magic, animalistic rituals and savagery that rivals “The Revenant.”


Those who survived the ordeal are the women we meet in 2021. They have become a public source of fascination, especially now that it’s the 25th anniversary of the crash: What happened out there in the woods? The former teammates made a pact never to tell, but now they’re receiving postcards from someone who’s threatening to spill their secrets. But who? And why? And then there’s a murder ...

The search for the truth becomes an addictive quest in this dark, mysterious and thrilling story that reimagines the vicious social pecking order of teenage girls in a live-and-let-die setting. When the social norms formed in high school break down, brutality ensues. It’s bits of “Apocalypse Now,” “The Beach” and “Survivor” filtered through a female lens.

A nurse smiles down on a patient at a nursing home
Christina Ricci portrays a creepily cheery sociopath in “Yellowjackets.”
(Paul Sarkis / Showtime)

The Yellowjackets start out as the usual archetypes: the perfect, prudish and pretty Jackie (Ella Purnell) and her unassuming sidekick Shauna (Sophie Nélisse as a teen; Melanie Lynskey as an adult). The drug-addled burnout Natalie (Sophie Thatcher/Juliette Lewis). The competition-driven athlete Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown/Tawny Cypress). And the bespectacled outcast Misty (Samantha Hanratty/Christina Ricci). But it’s clear from the pilot, when fur-clad wildlings are shown chasing one of their tribe through the snow until she falls into their trap and is impaled on their primitive spikes, that this is far from a “Clueless” rivalry in the quad.

Casting here alone should win awards for capturing the essence of a decade when raw, untamed and dangerous young women surged to the forefront of music and film. Ricci (“The Ice Storm”), Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures”) and Lewis (“Natural Born Killers”) kill in “Yellowjackets,” figuratively and literally.

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Ricci’s nerdy Misty appears meek, but she’s a manipulative sociopath whose chirpy demeanor is downright chilling. Lynskey’s Shauna is a stay-at-home mom who’s the picture of low self-esteem and suppressed rage. It’s only a matter of time before she blows. And Lewis’s Natalie may be a disheveled mess, but underneath the whisky fumes and leather, she’s a driven investigator who’s determined to figure out who’s sending the postcards. And who’s a murderer. In this cruel world, though, her deep-seated empathy could also be her downfall.

The engaging young performers who play their teen counterparts ably set the stage for this creepy and compelling tale. They’re accompanied by a soundtrack filled with wily female voices from the era — Salt-N-Pepa, Hole, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey — painting a complete picture of Gen X anger and angst, only this time it’s not about the flannel-clad boys.

If it holds up (I’ve seen the first six episodes available for review), “Yellowjackets” may turn out to be my favorite show of 2021, even though it stretches into 2022. And if it doesn’t, my Gen X fatalism is ready: Oh well. Whatever. Never mind. No matter where it ends up, watching these girls and women unleash their inner beasts is worth the ride.


Where: Showtime
When: 10 p.m. Sundays
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17)

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LA Times Today: ‘Yellowjackets’ on Showtime should be your next TV obsession

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