Little more than three weeks into 2019, we’ve had a new series/season premieres (or 5) just about daily across the Sling-verse. Peak TV continues to reach epidemic proportions — not that we’re complaining — and with everything available to watch, I’ve genuinely been the most excited for Deadly Class, SYFY’s stylized, kick-ass coming-of-age story that premiered last week.
Homeless teen Marcus Lopez (relative newcomer Benjamin Wadsworth) has been dealt a crappy hand in life: We meet him in 1987 San Francisco, attempting to survive on the streets following the death of his parents and destruction of his group home by an arson falsely pinned on him. In a curious act of off-campus recruiting, this misunderstanding puts Marcus on the radar of Master Lin (Benedict Wong, Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War), headmaster at King’s Dominion, the elite academy for assassins. In between a well-rounded curriculum of Poisons 101 and AP Black Arts, Marcus, one of the few “rats” (aka non-legacy students), must navigate the cutthroat social scene as low man on the totem pole among the cartel kids, gangbangers, yakuza, neo-Nazis, Heathers and Plastics (jk on the last two). Kind of puts Dawson’s or the 90210 crew’s angst into perspective.
I must admit that teen dramas are not my genre of choice, nor are comic book adaptations, so I was shocked for how hard I fell for this show until I considered the pedigree. Deadly Class is executive produced by the Russo Brothers, who had a hand in two of my favorite TV series of all time: the late, unsung greats Community and Happy Endings (though you may have heard of some of their forays into indie filmmaking, like the Captain America and Avengers franchises). Thankfully some of the signature sharp, warped humor carries through to King’s Dominion.
Take the opening scene, where we join Marcus in class with Master Lin, who has just smacked Brandy (Siobhan Williams, UnREAL) in the face with his cane for passing a note to Marcus (I know this sounds bad; stay with me here)… she’s bleeding from the nose, begins to cry, wipes the blood with her finger then proceeds to gleefully lick it off while staring Marcus down. We later learn Brandy is a rather vile, card-carrying white supremacist and the message of peace and love contained in her note? “You’re dead mutt” surrounded by red swastikas.
The many ways in which Deadly Class is able to strike balances is one of its greatest strengths. The nostalgia is restrained, never cartoonish (no “Hey, it’s the ’80s!” comically oversized cell phone, ‘Frankie Say Relax’ t-shirts or impromptu breakdancing competitions). There is heart and substance behind the visually sleek, synth-scored, atmospheric domain. Any elements of fantasy are tempered with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders this show takes place in the real(ish) world (ranging from the pistol on display at King’s Dominion with the plaque “Lee Harvey Oswald, Class of ’57” to the combustible ramifications of Ronald Reagan’s social and economic policies on Marcus’ own life).
With such a solid start, I’m looking forward to what the rest of the season has in store. With apologies to Nancy Reagan, just say yes to Deadly Class.
New episodes of Deadly Class premiere at 10pm ET Wednesdays on SYFY, and Thursdays on demand.