31 Pilots in 31 Days: Yellowjackets

When it was originally on: 2021-present

Original network: Showtime

Where you can stream it now: Showtime

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: A wildly talented high school girl soccer team becomes the (un)lucky survivors of a plane crash deep in the Canadian wilderness.

Why I picked it: HBO has been top dog within premium cable for quite some time, arguably the entire history of premium cable. As we move into the streaming age, fewer and fewer people are paying for a premium cable package where Showtime, Starz, etc. can ride HBO’s coattails, so Showtime is going to need more buzzed-about hits like Yellowjackets to justify standalone Showtime subscriptions. Showtime seems to be well aware of this, having already greenlit a Season 3 even before Season 2 has premiered.

I always like including shows from these “underdog” outlets because the channel/content relationship is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum that I find fascinating. Is HBO top dog because its content is just that much better, or does their success with past shows make it that much easier to guide those audiences to newer shows? Whatever channels/streaming platforms we’re already watching are more likely to be the ones we keep watching, but of course we only have those habits in the first place because we like that outlet’s content.

That underdog status means that when Showtime does have a hit, and they most certainly do with Yellowjackets, that show is a hit despite the uphill battle of being on Showtime. What is it about this show that was able to break through the noise in ways so many shows don’t? Is it the show itself, clever marketing strategy, or some combination thereof? If you were just looking at loglines on paper, Yellowjackets doesn’t exactly jump out as the Showtime original that would be most poised for such success.

What I liked: So they actually put quite a bit more time than I expected into developing these character relationships prior to the pivotal plane crash. They show us who’s friends with whom; who’s willing to betray whom; who’s in it for themselves, and who’s a team player. One of the things I’ve always loved about sports stories is how you often have a bunch of characters who don’t actually like each other and have no reason to interact outside their sport, and then they have to work together for a common goal. Yellowjackets gets all that. Even though it’s not a “sports story” in the most traditional sense, that choice to make this about a soccer team rather than a group of friends is a smart one since it allows for all those same dynamics, and the pilot certainly does its homework here to establish those dynamics.

I love how these characters cover a wide spread of typical teenage girl archetypes, yet they don’t feel one-dimensional either. We have Jackie, the gorgeous, popular one; Natalie, the one who does drugs; Laura Lee, the Christian girl; Taissa, the hyper-competitive, ambitious one. Shauna, the relatable “normal” one.

We’ve seen all these types before, but these characters are so much more than those types. We actually get why Jackie is popular. She’s a confident leader both on and off the field, and there’s a brilliant scene where she lines up the Yellowjackets after some fighting at a party. We see her teammates follow her, and how she demands that they all say nice things about each other in a cheesy, corporate team building sort of way and then it actually works. Jackie understands the value of positivity and teamwork, and she can diffuse conflict when it happens (which makes me like 99% sure she’s going to die later given what things eventually devolve into).

Natalie doesn’t seem to hang out with any of her teammates off the field, but she’s one of the most adamant defenders of freshman Allie when Taissa suggests freezing Allie out during the championship game. She doesn’t want to be a shitty person and she still wants the team to function like a team even if she doesn’t wield the power and influence Jackie does. Shauna is Jackie’s best friend who seems like a nice person who’s focused on soccer rather than boys, but by the end of the pilot we learn that she’s been carrying on a secret affair with Jackie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend.

What I didn’t like: I hated it pretty much every time they cut over to the adult versions of these characters in 2021. Too much of these scenes are just spent standing around saying “damn, shit really went down when we were stranded on that mountain!” There’s already clips of the intense, gory, lord-of-the-flies type action shots sprinkled throughout, and I thought those were perfectly sufficient for assuring us that shit will go down. Other than that, not much is happening on the adult side until the very end.

At this point, I feel like Yellowjackets would’ve been a lot more fun if I could watch shit go down without knowing who survives. I almost begrudge the pilot for “spoiling” that some of these girls make it to adulthood. Now, people who have seen this show in its entirety are likely screaming about all the other interesting stuff that happens on the All Grown Up side of the show in later episodes. That may very well be true, I can’t say. If that is true I would argue that these adult scenes needed to do a hell of a lot more than they did to get me excited about what might happen with the adults. Or alternatively, still keep all those cool plot lines but not roll them out until Episode 2 or later.

More than anything, TV pilots are an exercise in what story elements need to be disclosed now, and what’s best left for later, and introducing an adult plotline in the pilot and then doing almost nothing with it seems like a miscalculation. If Adult Natalie is going to kill Adult Equipment Manager, a possibility that is teased at the end, I kind of wish they’d just went through with it, and maybe even done it earlier within the episode so we could start watching the fallout. I’m still left not knowing if this part of the show ever gets interesting, or how long I might have to wait for it to get interesting.

All these adult scenes are also part of the reason that the plane crash doesn’t actually happen until the very end of this pilot. The intrigue here is all around that central question of “what happens to this soccer team when they’re forced to survive in the wilderness?” You knew that coming in if you saw even a sliver of this show’s marketing, and the very first scene is teasing that Lord of the Flies type show that theoretically we’re all here for. At the end, I feel like I’m still waiting for the show to become what it’s supposed to become. Perhaps we could’ve gotten more of that wilderness-survival stuff if we weren’t cutting back to 2021 so often, and we wouldn’t have had to lose any of that great pre-crash exposition I loved so much.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: For sur. I’m certainly intrigued. It’s possible and maybe even likely that all the “problems” I had here are gone within the next couple episodes. Watching the teenage characters was certainly entertaining enough to make me want to stick this out, and hopefully stuff happens on the adult side to get me more interested in that.


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