“Leave Them Kids Alone” isn’t well-suited to a compressed half-hour runtime, but it’s a recognizable idea with solid performances.
This recap of Just Beyond season 1, episode 1, “Leave Them Kids Alone”, contains spoilers.
Disney’s idea of high school is a pretty well-established concept; the kind of place where kids all wear headphones listening to something that completely summarizes their personality. “Leave Them Kids Alone”, the first episode of the new horror-comedy Disney+ anthology Just Beyond, opens with this gimmick, so as soon as we see Veronica Vanderhall (Mckenna Grace) listening to pop-rock and wearing badges on her jacket, we just know she’s a self-styled activist even before she starts lecturing people about the planet dying. Unfortunately, the punishment for inciting minor rebellions in Disney high schools is being shipped off to Miss Genevive’s School for “difficult” girls, where everyone has the same uniform, haircut, and personality. Everything is fine!
Just Beyond season 1, episode 1 recap
Veronica doesn’t fit in at her new school, to say the least. There are no vegan options on the breakfast menu and no mention in history class of how the Salem witch trials were rooted in misogyny and oppression. Miss Genevive (Nasim Pedrad) wants her brought in line, and her hair appropriately styled, as soon as possible, which prompts a hasty escape attempt and a quick allyship with Claire (Leean Ross), a fellow student who has been planning an escape attempt of her own and takes Veronica to see the haircut process for herself, which takes place in a lab rather than a salon. It’s brainwashing, essentially, but it doesn’t work on Claire, since she has a metal plate in her head after a skateboarding accident in her youth.
Claire has a sister named Mary (Jasmyn Renee Coleman) who has succumbed to the brainwashing, which is why she remains behind at the school. The parents don’t seem to have any idea what’s going on there, but they don’t seem to be questioning it much either, which isn’t exactly a well-hidden point about wealthy parents who ship their offspring off to “special” schools rather than having to deal with them.
The next day, Claire has been brainwashed, the plate in her head having been “discovered” in a kind of hand-wavey “don’t worry about it” way. This leaves Veronica without allies, and suddenly seeing the allure of not having to care about anything; the burden, I suppose, of those who care too much about everything. But it doesn’t last long, since a window of opportunity presents itself in Heather (Lauren Lindsey Donzis), her roommate. As it turns out, music instantly undoes the brainwashing, so Veronica’s little speaker — a throwback to the opening scene, smartly — blasting pop-rock snaps Heather right out of it. And then Heather playing the music through the school’s intercom system snaps everyone out of it. The girls are free, and there’s an immediate uprising.
“Leave Them Kids Alone” is a tame opener, you have to admit, but you can see how it’d work much better in a longer format with its relationships and twists stretched out over more time. There are no scares, per se — the “horror” is in children being forced into obedience and conformity instead of being allowed to express themselves — but there’s definitely the skeleton of an idea here. Hopefully, subsequent episodes don’t feel like bigger stories compressed into a half-hour and instead are smaller stories with bigger implications.