It’s flawed, for sure, but there are enough compelling ideas in First Kill that the world and its characters may have legs beyond this initial season.
This review of First Kill season 1 is spoiler-free.
Look, it’s always obvious and cliché to compare stories of star-crossed lovers to Romeo & Juliet, but in fairness to me, Netflix’s new eight-part genre-splicing LGBTQ+ series First Kill makes reference to the Bard’s play pretty explicitly. In fact, it even goes so far as to have its central characters spend the night in a bed among a high-school set built for a rendition of the play, and occasionally quotes from it directly. The comparisons aren’t exactly subtle.
But the dynamic is, at least, updated. It’s now more accurately Juliet & Juliet, though one of them is a vampire and the other is a monster hunter, which is an even more precarious dilemma than in the original text. First Kill even goes a step further by having Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook) – oh, yeah, she’s literally called Juliette – be the scion of an ancient, virtually indestructible line of pureblood vampires called Legacies, while her suitor, Calliope (Imani Lewis), is the runt of a litter of born-and-bred monster hunters for whom a Legacy culling would be the equivalent of a casual fisherman hooking the Loch Ness Monster.
Predictably, though, neither kid really fits into their respective families and their storied dynasties. Jules is on the cusp of her titular first kill, a kind of coming-of-age moment for teenage vampires whose appetites are becoming too strong for blood pills – literally capsules of blood – to suppress. But she isn’t the type to chow down on innocents, so despite her parents Margot (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Sebastian (Will Swenson), and her older sister Elinor (Gracie Dzienny, a standout), constantly reminding her of how important it is for the family’s reputation, Jules is hesitant to sink her teeth into anyone or anything.
Until she meets new girl Calliope, who is also due to make her own first kill after botching her initial attempt and watching her brothers, Theo (Phillip Mullings Jr.) and Apollo (Dominic Goodman), rack up laundry lists of victims. Pressured by her parents, Talia (Aubin Wise) and Jack (Jason Robert Moore), Cal decides that Jules will be her first just as Jules is deciding that Cal will be hers. And thus, we have our setup.
There’s obviously a lot of metaphor woven into this narrative, little of it subtle. But there’s something fun in as obvious a visual point as a jar of cherries spilling across a pantry floor when the girls first make out. The narration that bookends each episode, which both Jules and Cal alternately provide, is a touch too on-the-nose, but the show’s lack of pretension is quite charming. It’s trying to have fun; to have its forbidden fruit and eat it if you like.
To what extent this constitutes a problem will depend on the specific wants of the individual viewer. First Kill wants to be a teen drama, but it also wants to be a legitimate fantasy story with a relatively expansive mythology that involves the literal Garden of Eden, a quasi-political thriller about ancient, catty family dynasties, and sometimes even a monster horror, wheeling out a gang of beasties sprung to life via what look like PS2-era computer graphics. And it isn’t just genre that the show plays with, but tone – one of the most surprising and brutal moments of the season is immediately followed by a laugh-out-loud bit of silliness.
Again, it might not be a problem for some, but it was occasionally a problem for me, even if I liked First Kill a lot more than I expected to thanks to its capable cast and capacity for surprise. Fans of a certain age will, fittingly, eat this right up, especially the saucier bits and some aspects of the wider worldbuilding that imply all kinds of interesting themes and ideas that these eight episodes don’t have time to explore. The same can be said for various supporting characters who get an introduction but little in the way of depth or development; there are at least a couple of spin-off series’ in here if you’re looking for them, not to mention a couple more seasons, should the whole thing do well enough to prompt Netflix to dive deeper into its seemingly bottomless pockets.
And that kind of meme-ready fan-friendly property is exactly what Netflix needs given its recent stock woes and dwindling subscriber base. First Kill isn’t the next Stranger Things, but there’s no reason it can’t be something like it, provided it finds the right audience.
Of course, it isn’t as good as any season of Stranger Things, but these days that’s almost beside the point. Being so carefully cultivated to create fandoms and presumably enthusiastic headcanon – the series is already adapted from a short story by creator V.E. Schwab – will probably give the show a lot of mainstream pop culture mileage, and in some ways, I’d say it deserves it. It might be a bit depth-averse, and it might not always be executed in the most compelling of ways, but I really think there’s something here that’ll resonate with enough people to cause a fuss – even if it’s only a small one.