This year I’ve been behind the curve when it comes to watching the most popular TV shows of the moment. Case in point, I only started Succession in April, and then promptly wished I’d not waited so long. Similarly, last week when I sat down to watch Yellowjackets after hearing equally high praise, my expectations were also sizable.
I was hoping Yellowjackets would be another TV show that would live up to its reputation earned via glowing praise from friends, colleagues and the internet at large. Imagine my disappointment when after watching the first four episodes, the show failed to capture my full interest.
It’s not that Yellowjackets is a total wash, but almost halfway through the show’s 10-episode first season, I’m really struggling to see what the big deal is. It’s totally fine TV, but I’ve seen plenty of shows of equal, or even greater, quality come and go without receiving even a fraction of the same praise that I’ve seen bestowed upon this Showtime original series.
Yellowjackets wastes a proven formula
Yellowjackets’ elevator pitch is hardly the most original: The drama series follows a high school soccer team trying to survive in the wilderness after their plane crashes deep in the Canadian mountains in 1996. From LOST to The Wilds, plenty of TV shows (and movies) have explored people trying to survive after a plane crash, it’s not exactly a new concept.
But that’s okay, I rank LOST as one of my favorite TV shows of all time — yes, I even liked the ending — and even if it’s a familiar setup there’s plenty of milages to ring out of such high-stakes drama. The problem with Yellowjacket is it’s not really about the aftermath of a plane crash, but rather the after-aftermath of the disaster.
See, the series is split across two timelines, immediately after the crash in 1996 and more than two decades later in 2021, with a few flashbacks to the character’s life prior to the plane crash thrown in for good measure. This again isn’t a wholly original idea; LOST was also set across multiple time periods with flashbacks, flashforward and even head-scratching flash-sideways in the last season.
The current day setting definitely gets most of the attention, or at least in the four episodes that I’ve seen so far it does. We are shown how the events in the wilderness have permanently impacted the lives of the characters. Even deep into adulthood, they’re all scarred by such a harrowing ordeal.
The problem is that watching the girls try to survive in the harsh Canadian mountains is infinitely more interesting than watching the current-day events unfold. The plot lines in 2021 range from a dissatisfied housewife engaging in destructive behavior to two of the survivors going on a road trip together. One of the survivors is even running for state senate, a plot thread that so far feels practically irrelevant.
As already touched upon, LOST also employed a similar structure with each episode containing various flashbacks to what characters got up to prior to being stranded on the mysterious island, but these flashbacks were used to flesh out characters and served the events on the island. This was highly effective, allowing each dramatic twist to have a larger impact as you really knew each of the main cast.
Yellowjackets seems to go in the opposite direction, the events in the current day feel like the real meat of the show and the flashbacks to what happened in the wilderness are in service to the story set in 2021. I appreciate that this narrative decision may work for some viewers, but personally, I feel like I’d enjoy the series a lot more if it was just entirely set in 1996.
Yellowjackets hasn’t lost me yet
Don’t misunderstand my stance. I’m certainly not calling Yellowjackets a complete waste of time. I have every intention of finishing the first season because while it hasn’t quite captured my interest as much as I’d hoped, there’s still enough mystery established in the first four hours that I want to see it through to the end.
I must also give due credit to the show’s casting team who have done a phenomenal job bringing in actors to play the main characters in 2021 who actually look like older versions of the cast in 1996. There’s no digital de-aging employed here; different actors play the same characters at different ages. This could have backfired spectacularly, but kudos to the cast who convincingly mirror up their performances.
I’m also impressed at how Yellowjackets manages to coherently jump between timelines. While I’d rather it just stuck to the far more interesting events in 1996, it’s no easy task weaving together two timelines, and Yellowjackets remains straightforward to follow throughout its opening chapters, which is no small achievement.
However, even though I plan to persist with the rest of Yellowjackets season one, after four episodes I really should feel more invested than I currently do. I’m almost at the halfway point after all. There’s no sugarcoating it, Yellowjackets just isn’t living up to the hype for me. And I think there’s a larger reason for that…
The danger of unrealistic expectations
My experience with Yellowjackets is really a cautionary tale of the dangers of falling for the hype and watching a TV show with overinflated expectations. To be honest, having heard so much praise for the show, it was never going to live up to the lofty expectations I’d set in my head prior to pressing play on the first episode.
I can’t help thinking that had I gone into Yellowjackets blind, I’d probably be talking about it in a much more favorable light, instead because I started the show believing I was about to enjoy a landmark piece of television, it’s faced an uphill battle from the very start.
In many ways, I wish I could go back and watch the show when it was first airing, and judge it on its own merits. Perhaps this recalibration of expectations will help the show’s remaining six episodes grab me a little more as they no longer need to measure up to the same unrealistic bar.
Either way, whether I personally find the show to be overrated or not, Yellowjackets season 2 is already in production and based on the reception to the first season, it’ll be a gigantic success. I hope that when Yellowjackets does return my own stance on the show has softened at least a little bit. I’d very much like to join the chorus of people singing its praises.