Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
The curse of “Stranger Things” means every sci-fi/macabre concept involving teenagers will seemingly have its day on TV, with “The Midnight Club” as the latest example. It’s creepy, to a point, but moves at a crawl, while focusing on the provocative if unappealing premise of eight kids with terminal illnesses.
Not to be confused with “The Breakfast Club” (Google it, kids), the concept comes courtesy of author Christopher Pike, adapted by Mike Flanagan (the producer behind Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Midnight Mass”) and Leah Fong.
Set in the mid-1990s, Ilonka (Iman Benson) provides the point of entry into the strange happenings at Brightcliffe Manor, a place where teens facing a fatal diagnosis live together under the stewardship of Dr. Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp), tasked with gently guiding these fragile young souls through the process of understanding and accepting their fates.
The group has also created their own secret society (hence the title), meeting late at night to swap macabre stories tinged with the supernatural, and making a pact for those who die first to try contacting the others from the beyond.
Ilonka, meanwhile, begins to unearth mysterious clues about dark rituals practiced at the hospice through the years, including the rumors of a girl who somehow found the means to cheat death.
While there’s certainly plenty of intrigue wrapped into that framework, over its 10-episode first season “Midnight Club” bogs down in illustrating the long stories that the youths tell to each other, peppered with the soap-opera aspects of their relationships, however hopelessly Romeo-and-Juliet-esque they might be.
Ilonka, for example, is drawn to Kevin (Igby Rigney), who seems eager to comfort those around him and, in the clandestine meetings, keeps stretching out his late-night tale. At the same time, the unfairness of their lot breeds plenty of surliness, especially from Ilonka’s roommate Anya (Ruth Codd).
The diverse makeup of the key group and approach to things like LGBTQ rights give “Midnight Club” a contemporary feel, despite its foundation in the past. Tonally, the mystery perhaps most closely resembles the recent Netflix series “Archive 81,” which featured the same hurry-up-and-wait shortcomings — likely a factor in its cancellation after one season.
Ultimately, such series rely on their characters, and this show comes with a pronounced young-adult spin. Yet despite finding softer moments in the vulnerability of the central octet and their bummer of a situation, there’s relatively little to distinguish the drama on that level.
As for the broader secrets, “Midnight Club” is in no hurry to disgorge those, perhaps hoping curiosity will pull viewers into a second season. Stranger things have happened, but if not, this could be the latest series in this genre that struggles to keep the midnight oil burning.
“The Midnight Club” premieres October 7 on Netflix.
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