Confused, angry and lovestruck teenagers running away from the oppressed tyranny of their homes is a tried and tested formula that even Netflix has jumped upon recently. The streaming service’s newest show, “The Innocents,” however, is one of their less impressive efforts. Just as Netflix’s “The End of the Fu***ng World” channeled the whimsy and irreverence of “Pierrot Le Fou,” “The Innocents” evokes the more cliché aspects of young adult dramas.
“The Innocents” deals with the bizarre and the supernatural by chronicling the love story of teenagers June (Sorcha Groundsell, “Clique”) and Harry (Percelle Ascott, “Doctors”). Both are rather well-adjusted compared to most stereotypical TV teenagers. While they do explore their own fears and anxieties, the show portrays them as doing so with a more realistic sense of tact and maturity than expected of teenagers. June, who lives with a strict and controlling single father, decides to escape her home after her 16th birthday and on the eve of a move to Scotland. She is endowed with the ability to shape-shift, and discovers that she is being followed by Steinar (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, “Game of Thrones”). Steinar turns out to be a fellow shape-shifter sent by her mother, who is under the care of a mysterious caretaker Ben Halvorson (Guy Pearce, “Jack Irish”).
“The Innocents” feels like a show comprised of two separate shows, each of which is strong overall but together, entirely dissonant. June and Harry’s romance is sweet and realistic, and the way they react to troubling situations is in tune to their own personalities. In the other “world” of the story, which is set in a stunning Norwegian landscape, Pearce plays a cleverly written, ambiguous caretaker of shape-shifters, with sharp dialogue and engaging sub stories amongst the various residents of the sanctuary known as “The Sanctum.”
However, the show never quite successfully merges these two overarching storylines together. Steinar provides the early links, but they are never fleshed out in the early episodes. The scenes that are meant to be disturbing and/or enlightening are rarely so, with the exception of the actual shape-shifting scenes. In such scenes, the show rarely subverts but drowns in well-established tropes, also hurt by an unmemorable score. Throughout the early episodes, the show bounces around several tones, but never seems to decide on one.
Nonetheless, one of the things the show does have going for it is its sheer aesthetic beauty. The aforementioned Nordic landscapes are brilliantly shot, reminiscent of the lair of CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, “Annihilation”) in “Ex Machina.” They contrast well with the harsh, brooding skies and landscapes of the UK, where the bulk of the action takes place.
Another positive aspect of the show is the secondary characters. June’s brother Ryan is a recluse suffering from agoraphobia, and who seems to deeply care for his sister. Harry’s scenes with his mentally disabled father are tender and some of the most emotionally charged in the show. These characters are fleshed out and engaging in their own right, and they suggest more sources of intrigue in later episodes.
While not as engaging as its premise suggests, the early episodes of “The Innocents” pose a series of intriguing questions, especially about what in the world connects all of its seemingly disparate storylines. Fans of other Netflix series such as “Stranger Things” will appreciate the sci-fi angle the story takes, while others may appreciate the romance and simultaneous growth of the teen leads. Unfortunately, both of these aspects do not form a seamless combination.