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Netflix’s latest production is perfectly titled, since it feels, in almost every respect, like a low-grade placeholder amid the popular streaming channel’s higher-profile offerings. But then, someone like Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards or the septuagenarian tag team played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda on Grace and Frankie literally wouldn’t last a day in the six-episode series’ picturesque setting of Pretty Lake.
Early in the first installment (each episode is premiering, contra the usual binge-watching model, over six consecutive Thursdays), a mysterious disease descends on this small Canadian town that kills off almost everyone over the age of 21. The military is called in, a barbed-wire fence is erected, and the remaining citizens are left to fend for themselves, Under the Dome-style. ICarly star Jennette McCurdy — the biggest name, such as it is — plays Wiley, a cynical teen pregnant by some unnamed mystery man. Even as the world around her is falling apart, she makes a lucrative deal with the family lawyer to give away the infant after its birth and keep the father’s identity to herself.
There’s also Adam (Jesse Carere), the resident introvert, who suddenly is rallied by this young-adults-only cataclysm to figure out just what in the hell is going on. All he gets for his troubles in the early goings-on is some stern rebukes from friends and soon-to-be-deceased family, as well as a few bullets shot his way by the steely soldiers guarding the border gates. Other characters include a tough young prisoner in the local jail who’s on the wrong side of both the guards and his fellow inmates; a spoiled rich boy who seems primed to lord his white privilege and power over all of the survivors; and a salt-of-the-earth farmer named Gord (Ryan Allen), always ready with a loaded shotgun and, fortunately, adept at birthing both cows and humans.
A post-apocalypse is only as interesting as the people left behind, and these are all a bland, badly acted bunch. What few kernels of intrigue there are come solely from the “what-if” scenario concocted by creator Michael McGowan. Given the decimation of all authority figures, what would you do? Sulk in your room for days? Steal that car you always wanted? Use a gun on all the undesirables below your class station? The most genuinely upsetting moment in the first two installments comes when a preadolescent boy whose parents have died gets behind the wheel of a car and accidentally kills the older brother of another youngster. For some reason, this throwaway scene gives a more palpable sense of a world off its axis than any of the heated melodramatics cooked up by McGowan and overseen by episodes-one-and-two helmer Jon Cassar (a house director on 24).
Will the unfolding mysteries of Pretty Lake in any way redeem the series’ highly inauspicious start? It’s unlikely, even with the small-batch order, that many viewers will stick around to find out.
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