- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
There is approximately one good scene in Amazon’s new Hunger Games-inspired YA mystery-thriller Panic. Named after an annual tradition in which the recent high-school grads of a small Texas town compete in a risky game that resulted in the deaths of two players the previous year, the series finally lets us feel the weight of the decision to participate in the summer-long tournament at the end of the fourth episode.
“We’re both trash,” declares bad boy Ray (Ray Nicholson) to good girl Heather (Olivia Welch), citing their broken families and the dirty or pitiful looks the teens get around town. “I don’t think good things are going to happen to me anymore,” he sighs — not as long as he stays in Cary. The Panic game yields a winner-take-all cash prize of just $50,000 — not enough for the rich, college-bound kids to gamble on their very lives by, say, playing Russian Roulette or walking across a highway blindfolded, but enough to inspire dreams of moving away and starting over somewhere else in young adults like Heather and Ray, who’ve long witnessed older family members struggle.
Airdate: Friday, May 28 (Amazon)
Cast: Olivia Welch, Mike Faist, Ray Nicholson, Camron Jones, Enrique Murciano, Todd Williams, Lee Eddy, David W. Thompson
Creator: Lauren Oliver
For Heather, especially — whose best friends Natalie (Jessica Sula) and Bishop (Camron Jones) live in far nicer homes than the trailer she shares with her flighty single mom Sherri (Rachel Bay Jones) and vulnerable little sister Lily (Kariana Karhu) — Ray seems to be the first person she’s ever met who understands her pressing need to flee their hometown and never look back. (Never mind that they both have regular access to cars in which they can presumably drive off at any time.)
As the central conceit around which everything revolves, the game is patently ludicrous and wholly nonsensical. It’s hard to get even a basic understanding of how the players are winnowed out or on what basis they are scored, which robs the series of a natural source of suspense and emotional investment. The Hunger Games didn’t quite cohere, either, but its disparate elements — political repression, calculated deprivation, bloodsport as entertainment, the elevation of a chosen few to provide false hope to the masses — added up to a specific vision of dystopia. Creator Lauren Oliver, who adapts her own 2014 novel, only offers an underdeveloped featurelessness in her characters, their relationships to one another and especially her present-day setting of a dusty Nowheresville.
There’s little to focus on but the absurdities of Panic, given how generic the series’ characters are and how inexplicably they act (only ever in service of the plot, which winds across 10 hourlong episodes). It would be one thing if the show were brain-dead but emotionally rich, messily interesting or just plain fun. But there’s nothing that suggests Heather and Natalie’s fondness for each other as friends, let alone BFFs, and the obligatory love triangle between Heather, Bishop and Ray is so insubstantial, it practically evaporates into thin air.
Social relevance certainly isn’t the point here. Even if the challenges — which involve bear traps and, of all things, an actual freaking tiger — weren’t designed to kill, they most certainly might result in a broken limb or two. Some obstacles are universal and some are personalized, but all are ostensibly set up by a pair of omniscient game masters who are never seen by the citizens of a town defined by widespread unemployment, desperation and boredom. All that, and somehow the participants are barely curious about the sadists subjecting them to these preposterous tribulations.
Even less believable is the code of silence that governs these games. But that gives the town’s cops (Enrique Murciano, Todd Williams and Lee Eddy) reason to investigate who’s organizing Panic — and who’s trying to profit off the competition. These larger questions are much more engaging than the game itself, but unfortunately they’re squeezed into exposition-heavy revelations in the final two episodes. That means the preceding chapters are puffed up with silly portentousness, while the last couple of installments — with new-in-town frontrunner Mason (Mike Faist) given a motivation that dreams of being merely far-fetched — are deprived of the space to really let the twists sink in and make an impact. If there’s a second season, having to sit through this endurance test of a series might make for an apt challenge.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day