Deadly Class, with two-facedness as its core ideology, laments the evils of violence while various characters freely partake in it. It prides itself on its anti-establishment screeds but builds its entire premise around social hierarchy and stereotypes. Furthermore, it presents itself as a tough, truth-telling saga about the soul of a generation only to reveal itself as mere posturing.
The lengthy pilot of Deadly Class introduces colorful characters and a nihilistic world that falls too often into the trap of style over substance. It is smart and gross in equal measure.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While the choices the pilot makes can be upsetting, the confidence Deadly Class has in itself makes for a compelling piece of television. The show has no interest in being anything else but an honest adaptation from its graphic source material. This energy makes it the most promising series of 2019.
Based on the wonderful Image Comics series by writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig, Syfy’s new show is set in San Francisco in the year 1987—the Reagan years. It follows Marcus Lopez, a homeless orphan and possible child murderer, and his enrollment into King’s Dominion, a high school for assassins. Played by Benjamin Wadsworth, Marcus wanders the streets on the run from the police, philosophizing the corruption of his government and his perpetual loneliness.
One day, while on a drug high, mysterious girl named Saya, played by a ferocious Lana Condor, accosts Marcus. He then meets an eclectic group of students and the school’s headmaster Master Lin, played by Benedict Wong. Through these characters, Marcus finds a place and a purpose.
Mean Girls Inspiration
What follows is a wild ride through bloody fights and somber conversations set to the tune of punk rock; it will not be for everyone. In a scene inspired by Mean Girls, the show introduces various cliques, and they are not friendly. These antagonistic groups include a Mexican cartel, a gang called Final World Order, and a group of harassing white supremacists. Marcus’ interactions with these people gives us a clear view of the darkness and irony at the heart of this school. However, that thematic weight comes at the cost of overbearing nihilism and negative stereotypes, which are not necessarily challenged in the story.
The pilot is beautifully introspective, but it is not sensitive. This contrast can be a tough but worthwhile hurdle for those who want to watch this well-made show.
Different from Other Adaptations
Other comic book adaptations set in high school have a tendency to be light in content or ridiculous to the point of meaninglessness. The CW show Riverdale, based on material from Archie Comics, indulges in ironically trashy melodrama. In a similar fashion, the film Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming embraces breezy tongue-in-cheek camp and one-liners. Both of these items operate at a level of insincerity that makes them enjoyable as entertainment but not much more. None have wanted to engage at a deeper level.
Deadly Class, on the other hand, is completely sincere in its intentions and serious about its presentation. Rather than giving a happy-go-lucky experience it portrays a violent look at America and teenage youth. It wants to get deep and the effort is admirable, even if that effort feels too much at times.
The cast works hard to sell their characters and their hard-bitten personalities, each to varied levels of success. Benjamin Wadsworth, despite his mostly a passive role, owns his character’s bitterness and plays up an affable vulnerability when required. Luke Tennie plays Willie Lewis, the leader of the aforementioned Final World Order. He clearly brings fun to the role if a little cheese in his delivery. The real stars of this pilot are Benedict Wong as Master Lin and Lana Condor as Saya. Wong creates an intimidating presence, and Condor proves herself a versatile actress in what could seem to be a shallow role.
Whatever the cast members do lack, they all make me excited to see what happens to them next. This is especially true for the film-making style. Intimate and, at times, claustrophobic compositions meets an honest translation of Wes Craig’s gonzo artistic sensibilities, which are on full display in a heartrending animated sequence.
During a time of bordering-on-formulaic Marvel movies and washed out DCEU films, Deadly Class raises the bar for live action adaptations.
In conclusion, Deadly Class is off to a brilliant, if shaky, start as it still adjusting to a new medium. We will see if it gets better. The pilot, now free to watch on Youtube, is definitely worth a look.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
When he doesn’t have his head in the clouds, Jose keeps his head down studying and reading books, both graphic and novel. When he’s not reading, you can see him writing his own sci-fi adventures, photographing life in Los Angeles, catching up on television he’s missed, or watching the latest MCU film. He’s happy to live in the now.