We’ve seen many books, films, and TV series in which teens or young adults are put in life or death situations sometimes requiring these young people to use deadly force. Of course we have “The Hunger Games“, “Maze Runner“, and “Divergent” books and films that fit this category. On television we have “The 100” and to a lesser extent “Marvel’s Runaways” just to name a few. With the exception of Runaways all of these are in a futuristic dystopia or post-apocalyptic setting in which everyone faces life-and-death situations and the teens have no choice but to occasionally use deadly force just to survive.
However the new series “Deadly Class” from Syfy Channel is set more or less in the real world of 1980s US. This is not really science fiction or fantasy at all. It is based on a graphic novel by Wesley Craig. Our main character is Marcus Lopez. He’s a homeless teenager who escaped from a boys facility after a fire which killed most of the other residents. He gets recruited into a private high school called Kings Dominion Academy which is an underground school for assassins. Various gangsters, yakuza, and other nefarious types send their children to the school to learn “deadly arts”. He gets recruited because it is mistakenly believed that he murdered the other residents thus making him an experienced killer.
The Academy is run by a mysterious Oriental character named Master Lin whose family founded the organization to help poor people fight against the establishment. It’s based on the premise that some people just deserve to die. Marcus decides to go ahead and join to get off the street and perhaps learn skills so he can seek revenge against Pres. Ronald Reagan whom he blames for the death of his parents. Reagan cut funding for mental health programs releasing thousands of mentally ill patients onto the streets. A crazy woman jumped off a building, landed on his parents, and killed them.
In some ways the Academy sort of reminds you as a very dark and dangerous Hogwarts if the only class they taught was a dark arts class. However it wasn’t “defense against the dark arts” rather it was dark arts itself. Except remember these aren’t wizards. This isn’t sci-fi or fantasy. Despite being based on a comic book (excuse me graphic novel) there are no superheroes or supernatural elements. This is allegedly the real world.
When we look at terrific events of the dystopian young adult franchises, we can tend to set aside a bit our revulsion of kids killing kids even in something as dark as “The Hunger Games” because it’s the corrupt evil adults who are forcing the kids into the situation. However in this series, there seems to be no redeeming value to the entire situation except for the standard rationalization that they are only killing really bad people.
The thing that makes the dystopian franchises palatable apart from the necessity of the circumstance is that the storylines and the characters are compelling. We can’t say any of that about “Deadly Class”. The characters aren’t memorable. The situations aren’t compelling. Their struggles with moral dilemmas seem completely contrived even more that in the dystopian franchises. It seems as though we’re telling a story about killer kids just for the shock value of it. If there’s some deeper metaphorical meaning behind the entire concept, it is lost on me. If we want to tell a coming-of-age story about how difficult it is to grow up as a teenager these days in a violent world, then just tell the real story and don’t contrive some bizarre teenage academy for assassins.
I’ve not bothered to detail any of the characters beyond the main one or even tell you the actors names because none of them are anybody you’ve ever heard of and none of them are very interesting characters to begin with.
By the way if you’re looking for action in this series you’re going to be disappointed as well. Although they are supposedly being trained as killers, you’re not going to see spectacular fight sequences or action set pieces like you might see in a show like “The Badlands”. That’s why I said in the title that the show is neither deadly nor classy.
I waited until I had seen two full episodes before the writing this review because I wanted to see if there was some deeper meaning or some redeeming quality to the entire series but I haven’t discovered it yet. I gave this one every opportunity but in the end I give up and I’m giving it a very strong recommendation of “skip it“.