Netflix seems to have found its niche. In the films department, the streamer has invested heavily of late in prestige content from some of Hollywood’s most respected minds, resulting in awards-friendly (if not award-winning) output like Marriage Story, The Irishman and The Two Popes.
The TV department has different priorities. Bingeable true crime documentaries and soapy dramas fill the site’s television slate, driving clicks and social media conversation often with markedly less investment. Think Locke & Key, Riverdale, You.
Dare Me is the quintessential new addition to that latter group. A ten-part series which first aired in the States on the USA Network late last year, joining Netflix internationally March 20, the show is a claustrophobic and occasionally bloody look at the always-competitive dynamic of high school teens. Cutthroat is the key word. Spoken in ominous voiceover, the show’s first line – “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls” – tells you all you need to know.
And the episode titles, which parallel these teens’ po-faced attitudes with the language of real-life conflict (“Mutually Assured Destruction”, “Scorched Earth”, “Shock and Awe”) are a useful glimpse at the zero-self-awareness melodrama Megan Abbott originally set out in her 2012 novel, on which this is based. (Abbott stays on as a co-showrunner alongside Gina Fattore.)
Having said that, the show doesn’t quite deliver on its intriguing premise. Despite compelling performances from Herizen F Guardiola as protagonist Addy and Willa Fitzgerald as the team’s disruptive Coach, Dare Me never really finds its own identity as a self-aware look at vapid teenage politics. It indulges too freely in the obnoxiousness of its lead characters (“She’s ancient; she’s 28.”), only occasionally taking on a wider, usually hammy adults’ viewpoint on everything.
But as a portrait of teenage boredom, frustration and repression, it’s a valuable addition to a growing canon. The use of the Courtney Barnett song “Pedestrian At Best” in the first few minutes won me over above all, and offers a hint at what lurks beneath Dare Me’s superficial appearances: “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you.” If this promising, if unexceptional, show gets a second season, Dare Me should stray further from those pedestrian instincts.