Netflix’s ‘The Innocents’: Great Trailer, Appealing Premise, Fresh-Faces, That’s It

This Netflix show would have worked perfectly as a mini-series but like The End of the F**king World needlessly teases itself out for a second season. The high concept premise takes on an under-explored element of folklore: Shape-shifters, and applies it to the themes of adolescence, a shrewd creative/ business strategy that allows Netflix to invites comparisons to X-Men and YA material without feeling like a rip-off of either. The other smart offering this show has is it’s at least initially not just about the Shape-shifting. On the eve of her 16th birthday (though Sorcha Groundsell is clearly at least 20), June plans to run away from home with her boyfriend Harry (I hate this character, played by Percelle Ascott) after being held in captivity by her step-father who plans to whisk her away from what little society she knows where she can remain ‘safe’. June also has a physically handicapped and agoraphobic older brother Ryan (Arthur Hughes) whose arc doesn’t really pay off and frequently drops off the radar along with June’s attempted kidnapper (wonderfully played by Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson). The latter surprisingly turns out to be one of the show’s most sympathetic characters. He was hired by the not quite as evil Guy Pearce (his character’s name Halverson but c’mon) who seems just as confused as his native mixed Kiwi-Cambridge accent would suggest. The whole thing has a sci-fi hook but plays more into melodrama. Easily watchable but not quite as good as you wish it was. 

There’s a lot going on in The Innocents and the show more often manages to make it look like not enough. With a lack of motivation on the part of several characters, certain plots also require them to make massive logistical leaps in order to catch up to the audience. The pilot is a tight 45 minutes and will buy casual viewers an extra episode of interest even if they are not the intended target audience (my dad made it through two). The biggest problem the show has, which isn’t catastrophic, arrives at the half way point when our on the run Romeo + Juliet couple meet up with one of the parties chasing them, and then nothing happens. The show starts to lose momentum and you realize nothing set up beyond the first episode has happened of consequence and then nothing doesn’t until at least episode 7. The show has a rock solid foundation and at least 3 likeable or interesting characters: June’s brother Ryan, the henchman Steinar, and June’s father John. Unfortunately it isn’t interested in fleshing these characters out, only how they relate to the central couple. Other logistical problems like continued blind ignorance of the law have been a tv trope for ages. The ‘Ohmygod! We clearly hurt this person in self-defense or in a matter that was clearly an accident without any witnesses or party to contradict us. We best run from the police to look guilty!’ Based on the police in this world that’s a viable option. Robbie’s mother Christine is on/off the case depending on who you ask despite a clear conflict of interest or interest in gathering any serious evidence or collaborating enough to be taken seriously. At one point she plans to head off someone’s escape route and doesn’t bother to block the road. They drive right by. Seriously, this is stupid. 

The more I think about the show the more I realize the problems lie with the direction. Like all 21st Century sci-fi powered concepts Innocents is needlessly moody about its premise with no relief and these amazing powers are treated as a curse that separates people rather than a unique gift than might unite them. Characters forgo their external lives and duties to obsess over June despite her actually not being that interesting, you wonder what they do for money. To give a few positives, the show like all Netflix shows is shot like a film spitting out a few cinema worthy images with no inventive camera work. Everything you see here has been done before and perhaps better but the special effects especially for a television are notably good. You feel the body pain transformations involved in shape-shifting.

I have greatly mixed feelings about this show. It has an intriguing premise that’s marketed well and caught my eye, which shows someone at Netflix knows how do their job. The presentation is slick and the episodes are easy to digest even if it’s not “bingeable” (Netflix is said to be moving away from that term partly because it’s considered unhealthy, and partly because the quality of shows they produce isn’t up to par.) It explores the more metaphysical consequences of shape-shifting abilities to an extent I hadn’t considered, even if they ultimately don’t lead to particularly engaging material. Unfortunately the show too often entangles itself in repetitive and cliché melodrama it certainly doesn’t qualify as a great show. It’s something more rare among the medium, a TV show that manages to be just okay, but not okay enough to recommend. But like we say, maybe wait till it’s on Netflix.

Rating: C+ (8 sur 8 episodes watched), premiered on August 24th, The Innocents was filmed in England and Norway and stars Sorcha Groundsell, Percelle Ascott and Guy Pearce.

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