It happened in The Lord of the Flies with a plane crash. The same goes for Lost. The Leftovers sought a variation on the theme by opting for the rapture. Now an excellent new show called The Society (Netflix, now streaming) arrives at another way for a group to build things up again, after an event much less calamitous but just as eerie: a cancelled school trip.
“Change of plans,” announces an adult voice, brusque and disembodied, as buses decant their sleepy passengers late at night. “You’re back home.”
If that’s true, the hundred-or-so high-schoolers groggily begin to realise, then where is everybody else?
If the first thing to strike the kids, all on the cusp of adulthood, is the terrifying, then thrilling, absence of grown-ups, the youthful energy of the show clearly comes to you under adult supervision.
That's a good thing. Created by Christopher Keyser, who gave us the 90s drama Party of Five, it builds up a vast ensemble drama of new orphans swiftly, while trailing clever influences lightly. (After Golding, whose idea is honoured, updated and expanded, it makes pleasingly nods to Tom Stoppard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Beckett and Dallas, as fond of good storytelling as sly significance.)
“Clever is not the same thing as true,” one of the characters says as a group spitball theories explaining their predicament – sealed into an affluent New England town by primordial barriers, connected to each other but nothing beyond. But this show is both. Its timing couldn’t be better, analysing American life at a time when authority figures seem either juvenile or absent.
“We’re all alone,” says one character, despondently. “This isn’t our home.” In the US these days, that’s becoming a common refrain.
But The Society admirably makes its own rules, addressing hot topics candidly, from rape culture to gun violence, in the service of a plot without ever being pat or heavy-handed.
As fluently as it builds complicated, contradictory characters, through charming performances, it broaches alternative ideologies. “Well,” shrugs one jock, after a brief revolutionary heave, “socialism it is.” Why not?
The Society is similarly well worth trying on for size, as much for its wit and resonance as its grabby storylines. It may not be revolutionary, but as the best teen drama currently out there it makes a stirring argument for starting over.