At first glance, Netflix’s new British thriller “The A List” appears to be another cliché depiction of archetypal summer camp characters. It’s difficult to suppress an eye roll when the two alpha mean girls who are fighting over the same basic guy, the quirky sidekick and the angsty nerd are all conveniently placed in the same cabin. Yet, as the season progresses, an eerie darkness to the island begins to set in, and it becomes evident that this show is more than just another teenage drama.
In the opening scene, cynical protagonist Mia (Lisa Ambalavanar) arrives on the picturesque Peregrine Island annoyed at the lack of a cell phone signal. She immediately asserts her status as queen bee of the camp. It isn’t long after that the mysterious Amber (Ellie Duckles) arrives fashionably late and threatens the social hierarchy. From the beginning, something seems off about her, and the plot thickens as the other campers start acting different and the island’s secrets are revealed.
Referenced by the show’s creators as a cross between “Mean Girls” and “Lost,” the seemingly innocent summer camp is rife with secrets — all seemingly tied to the robotic Amber and her unknown grievance with Mia. Secret bunkers, surveillance drones, paranormal activity and personified plantlife make it clear things on the island are stranger than they appear, and the final episode ends in a cliffhanger just as Amber’s big secret is revealed.
While the stereotypical social hierarchy, high school drama and basic teen dialogue take away from the intriguing mystery, the show does a nice job with character development and creating a protagonist. In the first episode, Mia appears to be the show’s antagonist, degrading the outcasts and making friends with the weird girl out of pity. Yet, as she tries to compete with Amber for the love of camp heartthrob Dev (Jacob Dudman) and becomes an outcast herself, she realizes her mistakes and matures into a character the viewers want to support.
Another prominent character who develops over the course of the season is the rebellious brainiac Alex (Rosie Dwyer). When she first arrives at camp, she distances herself from the other campers and their group activities in favor of studying the stars and uncovering the island’s dark secrets. She immediately clashes with Mia, though toward the end of the season, the two make an unlikely pair as they work to save themselves and the other campers from certain danger.
A strange addition to the cast is Luka (Max Lohan), a runaway criminal hiding out on the island. Mia meets Luka after being shunned from camp and the two form a strange friendship, helping each other out. He isn’t a camper, and his character seems like an afterthought by the creators to add another aspect of mystery to the show. If the drama is renewed for season 2, it’s likely he’ll serve a more distinct purpose by complicating Mia’s feelings for Dev.
On the surface, “The A List” appears to be another stereotypical teenage drama about the ups and downs of summer camp. But as the campers’ secrets and Amber’s vendetta are revealed, the show’s entertainment value increases tenfold, making this thriller one of Netflix’s must-watch shows of the summer.
Contact Amy Needham at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.