A funny, camp, and occasionally gruesome show about teens in a plane crash? Hell yes.
Look, let me acknowledge first that I know there is a lot of content out there at the moment.
It can be overwhelming, especially during “these times”, when our brains have limited capacity for new things, and when there are billions of TikToks to scroll through while lying in bed. You’ve got friends telling you that you HAVE to watch this show or that show, and everyone on Twitter is talking about what show you NEED to be watching IMMEDIATELY or your LIFE will not be COMPLETE.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to be that dramatic about things! I’m simply here to inform you about a TV show that you probably aren’t watching, and why I believe it is very worthy to enter your television rotation. Immediately. Or your life will not be complete.
Yellowjackets introduces us to members of a high school girls’ soccer team called, you guessed it, the Yellowjackets. It’s 1996. Needing to get to Seattle for a championship, the team gets on a private plane chartered by one of the player’s rich parents, and it subsequently crashes in the remote wilderness somewhere.
What happens in the 19 months (!) they are in the wilderness is drip-fed to us like we are hungry baby goats surviving on drama. We’re shown the direct aftermath of the deadly crash, and the team’s struggle to survive, but also by jumping forward in time to the current day, into the adult lives of the ones who eventually made it home. Spoiler: every single person is fucked up in their special way.
In the show’s current day it is the 25th anniversary of the crash, and public interest in what happened to the team in the ’90s and how they survived is stronger than ever.
What really went on is hinted at to us by flashbacks (fighting groups, hierarchies, ghosts, cannibalism??), and the grown-up Yellowjackets have made a pact never to tell. But secrets don’t stay secrets forever, and it all comes to a head with suspicious postcards, blackmail, a tenacious journalist, and the apparent murder of one of the crash survivors.
One of the most interesting parts of the show is how it plays around with tone. Even though they are vastly different, it reminds me a bit of Search Party in the way that it isn’t afraid to move to a different vibe at any point. It’s not afraid to be brutal and gruesome and bloody, it’s not afraid to be funny and camp. It’s a show containing a lot of moving parts, a lot of different storylines, and a lot of different personalities, and they are all serviced by the show’s willingness to embrace where it goes in the moment.
The cast! The cast! One of the joys of Yellowjackets is that it is centred around a female ensemble from two eras, so we are spoiled with an array of interesting and complicated women at different stages of their lives. And the casting has been incredibly sharp. Most of the actors playing the adult Yellowjackets are, in a genius decision, talented women who were big in the ’90s, but have been ignored a little bit as they grow older (THEMES! THEMES!).
For example, in a move I can only assume was done to appeal specifically to me and my little gay brain, it stars my first ever movie crush Christina Ricci (from Casper). Ricci plays Misty, a weird and strange teen who grows up to be an unpredictable and deranged adult.
Making up the other adult cast is Melanie Lynskey from Heavenly Creatures as Shauna, a housewife and mother who harbours secrets, the iconically cool Juliette Lewis as Natalie, playing a troubled addict, and Tawny Cypress as Taissa, a hopeful state senator whose home life is falling apart. Their teen counterparts, Samantha Hanratty, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Thatcher and Jasmin Savoy Brown, are impeccably cast.
— van (@bIoodymartha) November 14, 2021
There are also great performances by other teammates who we haven’t seen as adults yet because they did not make it, or other secret reasons, including charismatic captain Jackie (played by Ella Pernell), running-out-of-psych-meds-possibly-a-God Lottie, and the queer and funny Van (played by Australia’s own nonbinary icon Liv Hewson).
The show is imbued with heavy ’90s nostalgia, from the haircuts on the teens and the JTT references (link for young people), but especially in the music. You’ll be minding your own business watching the show when all of a sudden you’ll hear Salt-n-Pepa, PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, Portishead, and many other songs millennials of all ages would have been burning onto CDs for their greasy-haired grunge boy crushes.
The show’s theme song is another example of the vibe of the show. It sounds exactly like a 90’s track that would fit in with the above, something that could even have been the theme to something like Charmed or The X-Files. It’s called ‘No Return’ and it was composed and written specifically for Yellowjackets.
Girls don’t like boys girls like No Return by Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker the theme to Yellowjacketspic.twitter.com/4uKjKJvRf8
— Ian (@muddymudskipper) January 4, 2022
I love women!!! I know this was sort of discussed in the above cast section, but I really need you to know how great it is to watch these characters every week. Don’t worry, there are still boys and men in the show, but it’s really clear who the driving force is. Historically we do not have many examples where a TV series is heavily focused on an ensemble of women. We definitely don’t have many examples like this show.
Outside of the fact that it’s just an engaging and spooky and thrilling show, Yellowjackets is also about ~trauma~. It’s true we are in an era of ‘shows about trauma’ and this is yet another one. However, I haven’t seen it expressed quite like this before. It’s a show about the trauma of youth, and the trauma of wasted youth. It’s about the way our trauma manifests in adulthood. It’s about coping, it’s about female friendship, both good and bad, it’s about relationships, it’s about how society treats women, it’s about parenting, it’s about finding yourself, it’s about finding food in the wilderness, it’s about girls coming-of-age, it’s about hauntings and the supernatural (maybe!), it’s about sex, it’s about medicating in various forms, and it’s about middle-age breakdowns.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s never too much. It’s all wrapped up in mystery and intrigue and surprise, and it has bright spots and relief when you need them.
It is 2022, and my brain has been conditioned by streaming services to require all episodes of a TV series to come out at once so that I may lie down for 8-12 hours and watch the entire thing without a break.
Yellowjackets is released weekly, and rather than being infuriated by this, I am enjoying the imposed self-control. Especially for this sort of show, where there are mysteries and intrigue, it has been lots of fun to discuss theories and opinions each week between episodes. We are all in the same spot, and everyone has the same information.
Saying that, I think we should all try not to rely on a show like this to have big twist after big twist to keep me satisfied. Down that road lies Lost-like disappointment, where viewers either guess the twists so find it unsatisfying, or the twist is so left-centre that it feels unearned.
I am making a concerted effort to ingest this show more as a long-running series, where I care about the characters, and it’s their narratives that keep me engaged. So far the show is good enough, and the characters are grounded enough, that it’s working. It also helps that the creators pitched the show with a possible five-season arc, so I feel comfortable that they are at least not making everything up as it goes along.
So, please, watch Yellowjackets. There are a couple of episodes left in the season, so you have time to lie down and watch all 8 episodes and get on board in time for the finale.
Bec Shaw is a comedy writer and gay about town, you can find more of her opinions on Twitter @brocklesnitch.
Yellowjackets is now streaming on Paramount+.