The new Amazon Prime Video series “Panic” is an impossibly concentrated effort on the part of just about everyone involved. In “Panic,” the high schoolers in a small Texas town called Carp hold an annual secret contest where players endure a series of dangerous tasks. The reward — enough cash to fund a move to a new job or fall tuition or a life outside the city — is enough to entice dozens of players. Panic was adapted by Lauren Oliver from her novel. The series follows the various seniors as they compete, whether for an opportunity to escape, or an opportunity for revenge. These include best friends Heather Nill (Olivia Welch) and Natalie Williams (Jessica Sula), both of whom dream of leaving Carp and pursuing their passions, Dodge Mason (Mike Faist), a new kid in town with a mysterious secret, and Ray Hall (Ray Nicholson), a town troublemaker who is much more than meets the eye.
The show feels like the typical YA conceit: Bored kids in a small town who use drugs and sex to help them feel anything in life. By the end of the first episode, we were somehow sold on this concept. Much of it has to do with the performance of Welch, who plays Heather as someone who is confident in her plan to break the cycle of poverty and abuse in her family and has nothing to lose once that evaporates.
There’s such a pattern of distrust that runs through the nature of Panic as an enterprise that it seeps into the show itself. Past a certain point, it’s almost impossible to take everything at face value, so the show’s 10 episodes become a waiting game to see what’s left when the conspiratorial dust settles. That spells particular doom for the various “Panic” attempts at romance. Would-be flings and tenuous love triangles flit by, mostly as means to add wrinkles into how these contests unfold. Part of the show’s implicit argument for the continued existence of Panic is that Carp doesn’t offer much else to do as the school year winds down. The same seems to be true for making out with someone every once in a while.
When it comes to the Panic challenges themselves, the series delivers, walking a proverbial (and sometimes, literal) tightrope between reality and absurdity. While it feels wrong to classify the series in the world of horror, there are some genuinely harrowing moments, with massive set pieces or episode concepts that are perilous in effective ways. As the series goes along, some threats almost unfold like a conspiracy thriller, with lingering questions that could easily fuel multiple additional seasons if the series gets renewed. But at the heart of it, as each Panic participant plunges off of a cliff or faces their biggest fear, the idea of what the challenges represent — the risky and terrifying parts of growing up, especially in a system that isn’t built to support its young people — only grows more apparent.
Panic appreciates that being young means your head is likely to be filled with toxicity and remaining hope; from first loves, dysfunctional homes, and strayed best friends become the core build-up to your personality and identity. Being young means first betrayals, losing virginities, and looking at your parent’s eyes for the first time, knowing who they truly are. Again, credit can be attached to the writing for truly articulating these issues correctly. While some plots conflict and confuse, I imagine a series like Panic will truly resonate with young people and allow them to attach to their favorite character.
Final Score – [7/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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