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The most obvious way to describe Syfy’s Astrid & Lilly Save the World is as a more lighthearted, less angsty Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a comparison the show itself not only acknowledges but genially embraces. Astrid & Lilly‘s equivalent of Giles — Brutus (Olivier Renaud), an extra-dimensional monster hunter — even makes a point of introducing himself to Lilly (Samantha Aucoin) and Astrid (Jana Morrison) as “your Giles, in terms you humans might understand.”
Alias gets a shoutout in the premiere too, as does Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But in the first three of its ten episodes, Astrid & Lilly emerges with a shaggy charm all its own — not as a copy of what’s come before it, but as a worthy successor.
Astrid & Lilly Save the World
Airdate: 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26
Cast: Jana Morrison, Samantha Aucoin, Olivier Renaud, Spencer MacPherson, Julia Doyle, Kolton Stewart
Creators: Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone
Following a brief and unnecessarily confusing in media res opening, Astrid and Lilly are first properly introduced on a mission to spy on their cooler classmates, part of a plan to figure out how better to “blend in, and not be so us.” What “so us” means is crystal clear from the opening minutes, thanks to crackling dialogue from creators Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone: “This song makes me write poetry in a field of daffodils,” Lilly sighs when a favorite song comes on the radio, while Astrid cracks. “This song makes me want to get dry humped in the back of a pickup truck at Burger King.”
Their desperate longing to fit in leads them to a humiliating encounter with a popular jerk (Tate, played by Kolton Stewart), which leads to Lilly and Astrid accidentally opening a portal to another universe filled with monsters, which Brutus explains they must now track down and kill in order to close the portal back up again. The premise allows Astrid & Lilly to balance monster-of-the-week storylines for casual viewing with serialized arcs that reward more loyal watchers — though it does occasionally lead to some unevenness, as with a first episode forced to cram in too much exposition or a third episode built around a creature whose utility as a metaphor seems more potent than his abilities as a villain.
For a show as cheerful and funny as Astrid & Lilly, though, some shagginess isn’t just forgivable, it’s kind of charming. If the monsters look a bit janky, that’s what makes them so endearing. (Think 2008’s The Middleman for a sense of their general vibe.) If the plot doesn’t always hold up under scrutiny, it’s hard to mind when you’re busy grinning at its jokes. One of the series’ most disarming qualities is its utter disinterest in taking itself too seriously. In Astrid & Lilly, a demonic killer is not above busting out some rave-worthy dance moves — and his sobbing captives are not above wondering, “I know this monster thing is disgusting but is he also kind of sexy?” The girls’ defenses aren’t much slicker; in one episode, a humble oboe plays a key role in defeating a baddie.
At the same time, Astrid & Lilly‘s chipperness does not connote shallowness of feeling. The series is deft in capturing both the horrors and joys of high school. Lilly and Astrid start the series on the margins of the social hierarchy, occasionally targeted by jerks but otherwise ignored. Both leads are plus-sized girls whose weight is addressed but not centered, a refreshing rarity for television. (In contrast, otherwise thoughtful shows like Pivoting will still have a character decide weight loss is the way to fix her entire life.) They’re stung when a bully cruelly refers to them as “the Pudge Patrol,” but reclaim the nickname later as they gain greater confidence through monster slaying.
The girls themselves are no saints either. When they’re struck by the realization that watching other students in their homes for no reason might be a little creepy (it is!), they reassure themselves that, no, it’s an Olivia Benson move. But their flaws make them only more relatable — messy heroines, rather than faultless victims. Their social pariah status turns into a power of sorts. As Brutus sagely observes: “You have the unique perspective of unfairly being labeled as losers, so you got really good at looking at people from the outside.”
All the while, the girls find strength in their friendship. Morrison and Aucoin share the insular chemistry of teenage besties whose intense love for one another almost seems to serve as a protective shield from the brutality of high school. Be it killer aliens or garden-variety mean girls, there’s no hardship that isn’t made a little easier with a BFF to whisper with about secret schemes, or snicker with about stupid inside jokes. To some extent, it’s no wonder everyone else seems to eye them with suspicion — no one else quite seems to speak their language.
Astrid & Lilly is not naïve enough to suggest that even saving the world will make its protagonists’ dreams come true overnight — it’ll take more than offing a few supernatural beasts to ascend to the top of the cafeteria food chain. But the show does seems to be expanding their bubble bit by bit, bringing in help from unexpected corners and finding utility in the humblest of objects. Astrid and Lilly will surely succeed in saving the world and have fun doing it; the series’ title promises as much. The sweeter surprise for them could turn out to be a world that actually seems worth saving.
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