The Wilds is a soapy teen survival drama: Review
A drama about teen girls fighting to survive after their plane crashes on a deserted island? No thanks — 2020 is dark enough. But a drama about a group of teen girls lured into a fempowerment retreat by an eccentric academic who uses words like "gynotopia"? Yes, please, The Wilds. Inject that nonsense right into my weary eyeballs.
Created by Sarah Streicher (Daredevil), The Wilds begins in the present — an injured young woman named Leah (Sarah Pidgeon) is interviewed by two official-looking investigators (Troy Winbush and David Sullivan) — before flashing back to the events that led to her middle-of-nowhere marooning with seven other young women. (Ah, the present-day debrief as framing device — the cause of, and solution to, so many TV storytelling problems.) The first five minutes of the premiere, a meet-the-characters montage, tells us exactly what to expect from this survivalist drama, via Leah's snarky-earnest voice-over: "If we're talking about what happened out there, then yeah, there was trauma. But being a teenage girl in normal-ass America, that was the real living hell." This is a show about adolescents, not subtlety.
The girls on the island are strangers, but they all have one thing in common: They're each struggling, and their worried parents are making them attend something called the Dawn of Eve retreat in Hawaii, run by the sagacious Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths). Leah's been in a depressive funk after being dumped by her age-inappropriate boyfriend (Carter Hudson); Olympic diving hopeful Rachel (Reign Edwards) is pushing her body too hard, while her brilliant, co-dependent sister Nora (Helena Howard) watches helplessly; sardonic tomboy Dot (Shannon Berry) is the sole caregiver to her dying father (Greg Bryk); and so on. But then their private jet crashes into the ocean, and the girls are left battered on an unforgiving beachscape with nothing but some washed-up luggage — and each other — to help them survive.
Of course, the girls aren't there by accident — and each episode of The Wilds balances this mystery with woman-vs.-nature drama and flashbacks to the castaways' pre-crash life. Remarkably, both story tracks remain consistently engrossing throughout all 10 episodes, as the writers skillfully weave urgent island dilemmas with each character's personal challenges. Good Christian beauty queen Shelby (Mia Healey) continues to sublimate her true self even though she's thousands of miles away from her exacting father (Warren Kole), while tough-girl Toni (Erana James) finds that her quick temper is just as destructive in the jungle as it is at home. And newcomer Jenna Clause is excellent as Martha, Toni's kindhearted best friend, whose unyielding optimism has painful roots.
Even with all the teen angst on display, The Wilds (premiering Dec. 11 on Amazon Prime Video) maintains an undercurrent of youthful silliness; kids stuck in a life-or-death situation are still kids, after all. The girls compete fiercely for a lone bag of Takis, and turn a discarded mannequin torso into a mascot named Marcus. Griffiths, meanwhile, brings an intriguing unpredictability to Gretchen. Though I won't spoil how the Dawn of Eve guru figures into the story, I can tell you that she's comedically obsessed with her two little pugs ("The number of times just staring at these two faces has brought me back from the edge!") and she owns a T-shirt that reads, "Don't f--- with Mr. Zero."
The Wilds isn't really a "teen Lost," though both shows end their first season with a maddening cliffhanger. Here, the mystery isn't so much why these girls are on the island as how being there will change them — and I, for one, want to go back. Grade: B+