TV, 2022, 3 stars
Created by: V. E Schwab
First run: 2022 (1 season)
When you make a show for young adults these days there’s a very serious line to walk. You need enough action and high concept to appeal to the TV-watching masses, but with a restraint that allows you to tell complex concepts in less graphic ways for younger viewers. By that standard First Kill is a remarkable success. Vampires, monsters, sex, violence, drugs, family drama, murder, assault, all of it gets a run.
At its heart though First Kill is meant to be a love story, and unfortunately that’s where it all falls a little short.
In yet another YA genre call out to a famous romance from the past, First Kill is a remake of Romeo and Juliet, and it’s not shy about the connection. The main characters quote from it, paint sets from it for the school play, and even sleep in the lovers’ bed on stage in their school hall. One of the character’s names is Juliette. Their families are implacably at war, the two lovers taught from birth to hate one another.
All that would be fine, it’s certainly worked many times in the past, but if you are going to invoke the bard your love story needs to be epic. First Kill has moments of sweetness, and the leads are appealing enough with good chemistry, but it’s all simply lacking in spark. The banter is forced, the script lacks heart, and the romantic scenes lack passion. You don’t need to be more graphic to add desire, but what you lack in skin you need to make up for in passion, and angst, and craving, and fire. This show is just all a bit bland.
Juliette Fairmont (Sarah Catherine Hook) is a teenage Vampire, from an ancient line of super boring Vampires who can eat food, don’t struggle with daylight, and are borderline impossible to kill. Seriously, all those things are there for a reason, to ensure that their phenomemal power is balanced with weakness. Complete invulnerability is really dull. Silver appears to be something that hurts, and there’s apparently some super secret way to kill them. I supect it has something to do with cutting out their hearts, considering the huge hint Juliette dropped mid-season.
Juliette’s mother Margot (Elizabeth Mitchell) and father Sebastian (Will Swenson) are in despair at her ever making her first kill which will signify her transition from child to adult. Her sister is a sociopath, her brother has been disowned for mysterious reasons, and Juliette suffers from a problematic respect for life. Problematic if you are a Vampire that is. She also has a huge crush on Calliope.
Calliope Burns (Imani Lewis) is a monster hunter in training. She comes from a long line of monster hunters, and she’s also on the cusp of making her first kill. Her mother, father and brothers all think very black and white about monster hunting ethics - human is good, monster is bad. Cal is the new girl at her school in Savannah, and as soon as she becomes aware of Juliette she finds herself drawn to her. She also figures out pretty fast exactly what Juliette is.
In this universe, the world knows perfectly well that monsters exist. The monsters were driven from Savannah years before, and the only Vampire family in town now hides in plain sight. Juliette’s father is even the District Attorney. Much like social royalty of the old south, Juliette is being forced through family rituals - her “ceremony” to celebrate her first kill is a badly disguised coming out ball. The Fairmont family is positioned as rich white upper class, while loner Calliope belongs to the black family who move town constantly and kick arse for a living. No class-centric social commentary here folks, move along.
The conflict is set - monster versus hunter, white versus black, young versus old, upper versus working class. The young lovers are there to blur the rigidly-drawn lines, to challenge family traditions, to experience the pain of first love against all odds. I’m sorry, it’s just all been done before. There’s absolutely nothing that happens that surprises us even a little bit. Having all your expectations met does not make for bingeworthy TV.
Hook and Lewis do milk everything they can from this yawn of a setup. Hook in particular has a difficult job, trying to glean any level of excitement from the utterly boring Juliette. It’s only as the story unwinds and the lovers become more desperate that Juliette really begins to fight back in interesting ways. Both of their first kills come in time, and Juliette’s actually is in a courageous way, saving the life of the woman she loves. If the writers didn’t ruin it all by screwing up all the dialogue before and after the event, it would have been tragically heroic.
Mostly, it’s the villains who make First Kill vaguely interesting at all, but they are still a bit cardboard cutout. You should see what Elizabeth Mitchell has done in the past, don’t judge her on what she’s able to wring here from the ambitious but flawed Margot. Grace Dzienny chews the scenery as Juliette’s older sister Elinor who has real love for her family but loves being a Vampire much more, but even she often comes across as cartoonish rather than truly menacing.
I wanted so much to love First Kill. It walks in such big shoes, and as a paranormal romance fan I was so excited for it and prepared to swoon. There’s nothing like a good doomed romance!
It’s just not good enough to be bingeworthy and not bad enough to be kitsch. It’s kind of just… meh. The first series ends with a cliffhanger that threatens our young lovers in a desperate cry for a second season, but Netflix did not take the bait, so we will never know if they could have produced something with, dare I say it, a bit more bite? Shows just aren’t getting the chance to find their feet anymore, and it’s very sad.