I’ll say this for Amazon’s soft reboot of I Know What You Did Last Summer: it wastes no time letting viewers know what kind of show they’re in for. Perched atop a cliff with a pensive but disaffected look on her face, lead actress Madison Iseman speaks in perfect, self-serious monotone: “I’m sure you’re sitting there right now thinking you know who you are, who your friends are,” she says. “I thought I knew. I was wrong.”
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson set the bar for a generation of meta-horror imitators to come with his Scream screenplay, but his nautical 1997 follow-up cast its net in a more conventional pond. A loose adaptation of Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel, the predictable teen slasher generally left critics cold, but it understood what its audience wanted and delivered without overthinking. With its creatively-staged kills and impeccable cast of young, tri-nonymous idols—Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr.—I Know What You Did Last Summer sank its hook deep into the ’90s mall rat demographic.
This new teen drama, on the other hand, is committing the cardinal sin for young people in any era: It’s trying way too hard.
The basic premise of this I Know What You Did Last Summer remains largely the same: A carful of rowdy teens, vehicular manslaughter, and a cover-up that backfires when the group begins receiving ominous messages from an unknown witness to their crime who begins killing them one by one. The killer could be their not-so-dead victim, a stranger, or perhaps even—gasp!—one of them.
In a twist on the original formula, however this series revolves around a pair of twin sisters—Allison and Lennon. The two share a complicated relationship: Their mother died by suicide when they were young, and while Lennon moved on quickly (on the surface, at least), Allison remains depressed and misanthropic.
Iseman—who, coincidentally, might just be this generation’s closest Sarah Michelle Gellar doppelgänger—plays her characters with impressive distinction. The actress’s face almost seems to change shape from one character to the next, molded by expressions that belong either to one twin or the other. Unfortunately, her accomplishment is not enough to save this dour slog, which takes itself way too seriously.
Like the 1997 film, this I Know What You Did Last Summer is a loose adaptation of its source material—but unlike the film, which at least grounded itself in the likability of its megawatt leads, the series gives us pretty much nothing to root for. There is no unassuming Jennifer Love Hewitt in stacked necklaces here, no spiky-haired Freddy Prinze Jr. fisherman with a heart of gold. In this version everyone is equally rotten and deluded, from the Insta-addicted Margot (Brianne Tju) to the mopey, moralistic fuckboy Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman).
As the series progresses, it diverges further and further from the 1997 film’s premise. The four episodes made available to critics for review, all of which debut on Friday, introduce a mystery that will likely dominate the show’s plot for the remainder of the season. So far, however, this project feels like a shallow echo of things that have come before, conspicuously dropping slang like “sus” and “merc” to prove its Teen™ bona fides. It’s Riverdale without the camp, bedazzled in Euphoria makeup.
Truthfully, Sam Levinson’s drugged-out HBO show appears to have inspired more than just I Know What You Did Last Summer’s makeup. Drug use is equally central here, albeit Special K instead of heroin, and nudity—both male and female—is equally pervasive, as is a certain nihilism we’re meant to believe is generational. There’s a sex scene with full-frontal nudity, and the show’s premiere includes a penis in profile. All of these choices feel designed to capture both the viral success and the pearl-clutching controversy Euphoria has engendered.
As far as TV reboots of popular franchises go, I Know What You Did Last Summer is far from egregious. It wisely avoids merely rehashing its predecessor and includes some delightfully bizarre twists—like a certain parent’s relationship with a certain public servant, which I won’t spoil here—and even manages a few creative kills, although none so far that feel as memorable as those in Williamson’s film. Still it feels hollow—its plot in search of purpose, its characters starved for even an ounce of depth. Maybe this really is what Teens These Days want—but if there’s one thing adolescents have always been pretty good at, it’s knowing when they’re being pandered to.