Control Z makes for another soapy international Netflix teen drama, but its familiar setup at least allows for some subversions of its melodramatic tropes.
This review of Control Z is spoiler-free. The first season releases globally on May 22, 2020.
Netflix are hardly crying out for soapy international teen dramas, and I’m not sure that their latest effort, Control Z, really does much to stand out in the field. Then again, since the press was only given access to two of the eight 35-minute episodes, it’s difficult to say either way. There’s some promise in a setup that seems intentionally designed to subvert played-out archetypes, but the extent to which the show commits to that remains to be seen.
That setup is as follows: Sofia is a traumatized outcast with a particular talent for Holmesian deductive reasoning, even though she never seems to make any clever deductions beyond really painfully obvious ones like a school bully having dandruff. Nevertheless, she’s the protagonist, and teams up with new boy Javier, the son of a famous football star, to uncover who has hacked into the school’s WiFi, scooped up a treasure trove of personal information on the students, and begun disseminating said information in increasingly elaborate ways.
That school is… odd, to say the least, since nothing about its design or aesthetic seems to resemble a school at all, a decision you have to imagine is deliberate. But if it’s intentional I’m unsure of the point. Either way, it’s stocked with all the cliques you’d imagine, all of which are quickly off-putting, and one imagines that the success of the show will depend on how reliably those cliques and other expected high-school teen-drama fixtures are played around with. Early signs are mixed. In the first episode, a significant and fairly contemporary secret emerges about one of the students, but in the second episode several people are targeted, including one particularly unpleasant character, and he turns up at school the next day largely unchanged by the revelation. Control Z needs that character’s function, I think, more than it needs that character — or those around him — to believably react to his predicament, which obviously isn’t good storytelling.
Nevertheless, an overly familiar setup and some terribly leaden dialogue notwithstanding, there’s still potential in Control Z. There’s a great sense of escalating social despair and a believable degree of chaos that begins to erupt once the secrets start to spill out. How competently the show might upend its genre framework will probably make or break it, and I’d carefully suggest it won’t be a major Elite–style international hit for the Big N, but there’s every chance it’ll earn a sizeable binge-watching viewership this weekend.
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