“Between,” a new Canadian series on City and Netflix, belongs to the genre that channels like the CW and MTV have been milking entertaining shows out of for years: YA science fiction combining supernatural and dystopian elements with teen drama. Shows like “The Vampire Diaries,” “Teen Wolf” and “iZombie” have been doing this with lots of success because, for all the stigma attached to the “paranormal romance” and “dystopian YA” genres, they’re enormously entertaining.
“Between” follows an ensemble cast of characters living in the small town of Pretty Lake, where a strange disease suddenly strikes and kills everyone over 22 years old. As the pilot episode progresses and adults quickly die off, the military raises a fence around the city, effectively quarantining everyone inside.
In the hands of creator Michael McGowan (the critically acclaimed “Still Mine”), who wrote the premiere, the show doesn’t deliver the thrills its genre often suggests. One of the problems is that while shows like “Teen Wolf” both commit to their goofy premises and don’t take themselves too seriously, “Between” doesn’t show a lot of self-awareness. There’s almost no real fun to be had here; subplots basically revolve around the teen characters’ parents dying and there isn’t much variety.
“Between” could be entertaining if the actors hinted at a sense of humor that the script itself doesn’t suggest, but the cast is almost uniformly bland. Jennette McCurdy, who showed some sense of comic timing in “iCarly,” gives the vibe of a poor man’s Juno in her first scene as Wiley, walking down the hallway at school with her best friend Adam (Jesse Carere, “Finding Carter”), but the sarcastic charm of Sam Puckett is toned down here in favor of Wiley’s uninteresting teen pregnancy subplot. Besides, any chemistry Wiley might have with Adam grinds to halt whenever Jesse Carere opens his mouth. Carere’s acting is surprisingly bad, his line deliveries all read in the same emotionless voice and his unblinking eyes always staring blankly at whatever poor actor he’s sharing the screen with.
Those are only two of the characters who round out the ensemble cast. There’s also Wiley’s religious sister Melissa Day (Brooke Palsson, “Less than Kind”), jail inmate Mark (Jack Murray, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio”), rich kid Chuck Lott (Justin Kelly, “Degrassi”), farmer Gord (Ryan Allen, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”), drug dealer Ronnie (Kyle Mac, “Carrie”) and Pat (Jim Watson, “The Strain”). Notice how I couldn’t even pair Pat with an interesting character epithet? That shows how hard it is to find anything intriguing about these characters.
It’s difficult to get remotely invested in any of these characters because the pilot episode spends so little time with only of them, sketching them out with extremely expository dialogue in brief interactions before moving on to the next character. The episode becomes marginally more entertaining when the unrelated plot lines begin to intertwine, just because the episode can be more efficient with its time. Gord interrupts a conflict between Chuck’s cartoonish, rich father and Pat and Ronnie, then rushes over to help deliver Wiley’s baby. Still, the intersection of conflicts is kept to a minimum, leaving the audience with a number of disparate subplots that don’t demand next Thursday’s follow-up.
It’s hard to see what future episodes of “Between” could look like, both content-wise and quality-wise. With the right cast and crew, later episodes could prove more interesting, since there’s potential for the idea of an isolated “Lord of the Flies”-esque society without adults. Perhaps putting Wiley, Ronnie and Chuck in a situation in which they’re forced into becoming the leaders of a new society will bring out something new and fascinating in the conflicts. Still, based on the performances and writing of the lackluster pilot episode alone, “Between” might not be capable of something like that. Besides, most viewers might not have the patience to wait that long.