The Wilds Evaluate: The Greatest Misplaced Knockoff Comes 16 Years Later and Is About Teenage Ladies
Amazon Prime Video’s new series The Wilds is new this weekend, but its road to becoming actually started on September 22, 2004. That was the premiere of ABC’s Lost, the show that would change television and television storytelling for… well, at least several years. In that show, a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean crashes, sending its diverse group of passengers scrambling for survival, each episode typically covering a specific character and their time on the seemingly deserted island they then called home, their life before fate led them to board that plane (helping to explain their actions on the island), and, in later seasons, the fallout of how their experiences on the island affected their lives once they returned to civilization. All of that also happens in The Wilds.
That blatant mimicry is nothing new. Lost is one of the most knocked-off television series of all-time because it slapped pop culture across the face and became the event series that revived television when movies were kicking its ass. Everyone making television then immediately switched gears and expedited development on a show they hoped would be the next Lost. And pretty much every one of them failed to capture Lost’s level of success. To name a few: FlashForward, Manifest, Alcatraz, and, more recently and more spectacularly awful, The I-Land. But of the many peeking over Damon Lindelof’s shoulder to copy from Lost’s bible, only one has shown the competence to come close to the masterwork of Lost’s early seasons. It just took 16 years, and it’s about teenage girls.
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The Wilds is so Lost-like I’m still surprised each episode doesn’t end with a Bad Robot bumper. A private jet destined for a spiritual retreat to help angsty teen girls sort their sh– out crashes, leaving nine of them stuck in whoknowswhere with no adult supervision. It’s Lord of the Flies rewritten with a collage of scraps from a high school yearbook — the popular girl, the outsider, the glam gal, the athlete, the lesbian. But what The Wilds gets right that other Lost impersonators did not is that their stories matter.
The flashbacks to these girls’ lives reveal a peek behind the curtain of the teen psyche. The hormones, the confusion, the surprisingly astute and f—ed-up view of the world that dictates almost every action. Leah’s (Sarah Pidgeon) paranoid obsession with an older man consumes her. Shelby’s (Mia Healey) refusal to reject her religious and beauty pageant lifestyle and accept who she really is keeps her spinning in circles. Rachel’s (Reign Edwards) drive to be the best she can be makes her sacrifice everything else. And these personalities carry over even while staring down death.
These all sound like stories you’ve heard before, but as the 10 episodes unfold, creator Sarah Streicher (Marvel’s Daredevil) adds depth and shades to each archetype to smudge them into authentic, complex characters whose very being attracts and repels other characters for even more complicated relationships between them. Yes, Mother Nature is actively trying to kill these girls, and there’s obviously a lot more to their situation than is first implied (it’s as much of a mystery-box show as Lost was), but the real heart of The Wilds is the experience of being a teenage girl, which is portrayed honestly in all of its messiness.
The psychological messiness extends to the physical, too. There’s blood. There’s puke. There’s piss. By the end of the first season, all of these young girls are covered in scabs, bruises, and wind burnt, sunburnt, cracking skin, the only thing identifying them as teen girls and not savages being the garish sweaters from the one surviving suitcase, which belonged to the rich socialite, that they found in the wreckage and the P!nk song they sing over the shallow grave of one that didn’t survive to see the first night. It’s young adult for mature adults, and it all passes believably by the impressive young, and mostly unknown cast, who take equal turns being standouts in the series.
Streicher aggressively smashes multiple genres together in ways that rarely work as well as they do in The Wilds. Despite being about teenage girls, the survival story on the island is raw like genre fiction. The flashforwards of the survivors being interrogated by feds, which includes a steely Rachel Griffiths as the CEO of a blacksite-level of secrecy company, has all the nuts and bolts of a conspiracy thriller. But it’s the backstories of these young women and the subjects they deal with — sexuality, romance, abuse, and more — that bolster the other aspects into more than the sum of their parts. That attention to character and experience is cribbed straight from the Lost playbook, and The Wilds nails it for one of 2020’s most enjoyable surprises.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
The Wilds is now available on Amazon Prime.