This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
British television has historically not been great at delivering the kind of sleek, aspirational and/or scandalous young adult television that the US has cornered the market on since the 90s. Where the US has Gossip Girl and 90210, the UK has Hollyoaks and Made In Chelsea.
But there have been some notable exceptions. One of these anomalies was Skins, a show that Jess Brittain – creator of BBC Three’s latest attempt to woo that 12-24 demographic, Clique – worked on as a writer. It’s no coincidence, then, that this is perhaps the strongest example there’s been in a while.
The first episode introduces us to Holly (newcomer Synnove Karlsen), a quiet and uncomfortable sort of girl, and Georgia (Aisling Franciosi), the more fun and spontanious half of the friendship. The two girls are in their first year at university, ambitious and eager to get the most out of the experience. When they attend a business lecture from Professor Jude McDermid (Sherlock’s Louise Brealey) they discover the shady, high-class world of McDermid’s female interns and immediately find themselves getting sucked in.
Clique seems to have a lot to say about a lot of things, from the dark side of ambition to misinterpretations of feminism and the volatility of female friendships. There’s a lot of honesty about the pressures of being a young woman plagued with hunger and ambition at any cost, and the contradictions of intimate female friendships under pressure is a goldmine of material for series within this genre.
Comparisons to Gossip Girl are obvious and I’m sure make it easier to pitch the show to new viewers, but the mystery and noir elements also have shades of the current wave of teen series, including Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale. It’s not quite as heightened as those shows in its depiction of university life, but it’s certainly trying for the same kind of elevated stakes and slightly surreal quality.
What’s refreshing about the show is its singular focus on the female experience during a period of life that’s not given as much air time as your teens or young adulthood after college. There’s a reason why teen dramas often fall apart when characters leave their hometown and enter higher education, but those pitfalls cease to matter when we’re meeting our protagonists already amidst their state of flux.
The show also has an all-female writing team, which is both unusual and promising in regards to how far it will be willing to go into the psyche of its characters.
That said, whether McDermid’s speech about feminism having been ‘infected’ by self-pity and an “obsession with being offended” is also the show’s opinion remains to be seen (though Brittain assures it isn’t her view), as there are some mixed messages about whether such determination is a positive or a negative thing in the context of Holly and Georgia’s dual journeys.
One issue with early episodes is that Holly isn’t much fun to be around. She takes mystery pills at parties and sleeps with her friend’s romantic interest, but she doesn’t often crack a smile or let herself go. Karlsen does a fine job portraying the growing obsession with whatever’s going on within McDermid’s gaggle of interns, but you can’t get away from the fact the character has been written as the uptight mirror to the more irresponsible Georgia.
Brief flashbacks hint at further intrigue and a backstory for the girls’ childhood friendship, and the sprawling female cast gives the show the opportunity to portray as many different kinds of experiences as it wishes. Elizabeth, another resident of Holly and Georgia’s dormitory, is so far more fun and more fleshed out than any of the interns and while that separation helps the first couple of episodes to differentiate the known and unknown parts of Holly’s life it could prove problematic down the line.
The series doesn’t really become itself until the premiere’s final ten minutes, when a shock cliffhanger ups the ante considerably, but there’s a sense Clique lacks the levity and playfulness that make these shows so addictive. Despite this, there are hints that the series will go to some dark and interesting places and it’s an effective attempt at interpreting the young adult thriller for UK audiences.