Netflix has only been making original programming for a couple of years, but they are already churning out so many new shows that some manage to go unnoticed. The best of that lot is Residue, which features some actors from Game of Thrones trapped in an abandoned city full of ghosts and raves. The most intriguingly mediocre of the lot is Between, a sci-fi show with a fun, if generic, premise that aired a six-episode season that went all but completely ignored by critics. The show was picked up for a second season, coming soon, which is reason enough to believe that the programmers at the streaming behemoth think the series is worth saving — and maybe even promoting.
Before we even discuss the story, we have to talk about Canada. This is Netflix’s first Canadian-based production, and the short run of programming aired there before making its way online. While this would normally be a minor footnote in this story, Between seems to have made Canada into a main character on the show. It’s hard not to see this is a low-budget riff on high-concept American programming. That doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it a bit different than the prestige-athons Netflix spends its marketing budget on. And the show does deserve credit for a lot of creativity and a hell of a lot of effort.
Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan (who seems to have written and directed the show himself) is best known for the Joshua Jackson vehicle One Week and a film called Score: A Hockey Musical, which is the most Canadian thing ever. The cast is mostly comprised of young actors who had small roles on Degrassi so, again, pure Canadian gold. And the town where the show is set is called Pretty Lake, which is the Canadian equivalent of Nicetown, USA. Or maybe Silent Hill.
So what is Between about? Well, if you watch it right, it’s about making a science fiction TV show.
In the pilot episode, we meet a group of edgy teenagers in a small town who are all too clever, hot, and complicated to be actual small town high schoolers. Most of the adults in Pretty Lake are pricks, which isn’t a problem for long, because a mysterious plague wipes out everyone over the age of 21, leaving only naifs. The problem seems to be contained within the city limits, though, so the military shows up and quarantines the town. Now we’ve got a mostly adult-free city trying to navigate a plague — and teenage feelings. It’s Dawson’s Creek mixed with Bambi mixed with The 100. It’s kind of genius.
Unfortunately, the show struggles with execution. Plot lines and characters start spiraling from the outset, and most of the side cast are either impossibly evil or communicate only by reiterating their motivations. There is a cartoonish side-story involving a jail where the guards encourage the inmates to beat the crap out of each other and a group of government stormtroopers casually reveal top secret orders. Attempts to heighten the stakes also often wind up as frighteningly disjointed scenes. For example, there is a scene in which an adult guy holds the two hottest boys on the show at gunpoint and demands they strip.
It’s Under The Dome with The Leftovers and a Jane The Virgin pregnancy situation, mixed with scenes taken directly from The Stand and, to a lesser extent, Teen Wolf. But the fact that it’s so beholden to so many show is the best thing about it. Canadians don’t get to make shows for Canadians that often so the attempt here is to make all the shows at once. It’s poignant. One is left rooting for, if not the characters, the cast and crew.
In the end, maybe it’s okay that Netflix allows some of this original programming to hide out. By the time Season 2 drops, maybe there will be something much more exciting to discuss, here. It has all the potential in the world, and certainly Netflix wouldn’t sign off for more unless there was a cool pay off.