Review: Between 1×1 (Netflix)

Netflix's Between

In the US/UK: Available on Netflix. New episode available every Friday

Netflix is entering a new phase of its existence, learning what pretty much every big TV provider is finding out these days – you need partners if you’re going to keep making global television shows. These things are just too expensive to do by yourself if you’re going to maintain quality or at least avoid bankruptcy.

To be fair, as we’ve seen with Residue, Netflix doesn’t mind chucking out the occasionally cheap and cheerful bit of work, but I can’t imagine that’s its long-term business model. At least I certainly hope for Netflix’s sake that it’s not resting all its hopes and dreams on Residue.

So Between, a co-production between Netflix and Canada’s City TV, marks the first fruit of this change in strategy. Also new – at least for US Netflix subscribers if not for UK viewers – is its episodic, weekly release.

But then I can’t imagine you’d really want to binge-watch Between, a sterling example of the perils of international production and of how very unexceptional Canadian TV can be. Set in the aptly and ridiculously titled town of Pretty Lake, it sees a mysterious disease break out, killing thousands. At least, it’s probably a disease, what will the bile n’all, but since no one ever gets any symptoms until they simply throw up and die and as doctors can’t seem to find any cause for either the disease or the deaths, it might be something a bit more supernatural. Or alien.

The disease also has one other trick up its microscopic sleeve: it doesn’t kill anyone aged 21 or less. That means that in the space of just a few days, pretty much everyone inside the now-quarantined Pretty Lake is a kid… with no parents telling them what to do. What will happen next? And can anyone say Carousel?

A mysterious disease strikes a small town’s adult population in this tense sci-fi drama. Pretty Lake’s teenagers think they have their futures in sight with college, the military, even childbirth. But when the grownups in their lives suddenly start dying of an unknown plague and the government quarantines the town, the survivors quickly realize they’re trapped — and they’re going to have figure out how to make it to adulthood on their own.
Starring: Jennette McCurdy, Jim Watson, Ryan Allen
Creator: Michael McGowan

Is it any good?
Regular readers of this ‘ere blog will know that normally I’m a sucker for a killer virus TV series or movie. True, Between doesn’t really have a killer virus yet, but this should be close enough all the same. Yet, Between is so spectacularly insipid that I’m still not inspired to watch more than another episode at best.

Now, perhaps I’m not the target demographic. After all, the show is clearly aimed at teenagers, with its Logan’s Run like set-up that’s full of preternaturally smart, pretty teens all texting each other about their teenage problems non-stop and who no doubt will end up saving the day at the end, if they can spend their non-texting downtime doing something instead of Tweeting.

Who’ll work out the cause of the disease? It’ll probably be the genius one who handily graduated from Caltech early. Or maybe it’ll be the teacher who’s already completed her Masters before she’s 21. I’m not quite sure why these two geniuses have decided to live in a dead-end town like Pretty Lake, mind, but the rest are pretty slim pickers, so I bank on it being these high achievers.

All the same, I’m still closer in age to those teenagers than the show’s creator Michael McGowan (born: 1966), who imagines a town beset with American Grafitti style teenagers, with the town’s sole teenage mother seeking advice from her priest father while the under-21 army vet takes it upon himself to police the town in the absence of the actual police. In the town prison – apparently it needs one – we have a sole white guy facing off against a nasty Latino. Guess who’ll win that conflict, perhaps with the help of the nice but strict female guard who’s apparently under 21, too.

But these aren’t the show biggest issues. Neither is the fact that the show’s self-imposed age cut-off is so obviously at variance with the actors’ real ages that you spend the whole time thinking “They’re going to die next. It’s just a matter of time… wait, they’re not over 21? Really? They’ve got to be at least 24, surely. Well, if you say so… Okay, he’s going to die next then… What? Oh come on…”

The show’s biggest problem is that no one really seems to give much of a toss about what’s happening. Imagine you live in a small town. You’ve lived there your whole life and you know pretty much everyone there. Then in the space of about a week nearly 5,000 people are dead, with bodies piled up everywhere. These dead people probably include your parents.

Wouldn’t you, even the most jaded of teenagers, be just a bit upset? Just a bit?

And yet, beyond one or two occasional whines of misery, no one really cares. It gets to the point where it’s almost funny how unconcerned everyone is by the pandemic decimating their loved ones. There’s even one scene where a whole family is gathered round together outside when the mother simply starts throwing up and dying. In the next scene, they’re all just sat around the TV – sans maman – as though nothing has even happened. Not a tear. Not a shocked, blood-drawn face. Nothing. Mum’s dead. Oh well. Life goes on, I guess, provided we remembered to plug our iPhones in last night. Those iPhone batteries are the worst.

Still, I guess crying might make all the pretty young people less pretty, and we can’t have that.

The show’s central mystery – what exactly is it that’s killing off all these adults? – is its one saving grace, since it is at least potentially interesting. But the rest of it, with the single mum who wants to give her baby away for adoption but might not have the chance any more, the good blue collar boy and his feuds with both his druggie brother and the rich kid who hit his car, the genius kid and the genius teacher, are just all insufferable.

Between is best thought of as a glimpse of the normal kind of Canadian TV that only Canadians and I are usually forced to endure. If you want to enter our world, watch it. Otherwise, steer clear.