For the unfamiliar, The Society — which premiered a few weeks ago on Netflix — is about a class of high school students who are meant to be relocated away from their quaint hometown after an unusual stench overwhelms their community. En route, the roads are impassable, so the school buses return and drop the students back in their town, and then the buses drive away and disappear. What the students soon discover is that all of the parents have also vanished, that the town is suddenly surrounded by miles and miles of forests, and the teenagers are incapable of contacting the outside world. An entire class of high school students with limited resources is stranded in their own hometown, left to their own devices.
While that that description may not immediately suggests similarities with the apocalyptic The Walking Dead, it still manages to scratch the same mental itch. The two shows share a common thread: They’re both about survival in a world of limited resources where those that are left are obligated to come up with their own rules. There are no zombies in The Society, of course, but it’s been years since the point of The Walking Dead was zombies. This is a show about a group of kids forced to come up with their own set of laws, to form their own government, and elevate their own leaders. The leaders, meanwhile, are put in an impossible position where they have to strike the right balance between stirring enough fear in the rest of the community to ensure that order is maintained, but do so without creating a dictatorial form of government. It’s like forming a student council, only the stakes are much, much higher. The first season has already given us a Rick, a Negan, a Maggie, and a Deanna Monroe, only these characters are high-school kids, forced also to reckon with the loss of their families.
Viewers of The Walking Dead who have stuck around for nine seasons probably aren’t in it for the zombies. We’re in it because we are intrigued by how these characters will mold their new world. In some ways, they are given a fresh start and must figure out how to correct the wrongs of their previous civilizations. To get it right this time around. The characters in The Society are confronted with similar issues. For instance, a high-school character murders another student out of spite, jealousy, and malevolence. He’s basically Gregory. The society must determine how to punish the kid: A trial is held. The kid is found guilty, but the leader of the society — a high school girl (a total Maggie) still dealing with high-school insecurities and boy problems — must decide whether to imprison or execute the murderer. It’s not unlike the decision Rick Grimes had to make after with Carol during the prison season, only exile here is not an option.
The Society is insanely addictive, a mix of not just The Walking Dead but Lord of the Flies and M. Night Shyamalan’s Fox series Wayward Pines. Initially, it’s not that indistinct from a typical CW high-school drama: The popular kids remain popular, the nerdy kids lend their expertise, and the jocks form “The Guard.” Things, however, take a turn when a charismatic, Negan-like outcast decides he wants to run the community differently, at which point he basically uses the the jocks — the military of the village — and a dose of “fake news” in an effort to topple the fragile governmental structure.
It’s fantastically compelling television that plays on familiar archetypes with strong characters, riveting story turns, and debates about socialism, democracy, and dictatorships that not only mirror some of those on The Walking Dead but some of the very debates we are having in the United States. It is also low-key one of the most entertaining and conversation-worthy series of the year, so far.
The Society is available on Netflix.