Panic Season 1 struggles to justify its existence and fails to bring the thrills

Panic Season 1 -- Courtesy of Matt Lankes/Amazon Studios
Panic Season 1 -- Courtesy of Matt Lankes/Amazon Studios /

What would you do if you were stuck living in a small town where nothing ever happens and no one ever gets out? Would you be willing to put yourself in multiple life-or-death situations for the chance of winning $50,000 to get out? That’s the premise of Amazon’s new YA thriller Panic Season 1, based on Lauren Oliver’s book of the same name.

But while the plot might sound intriguing, especially for anyone who likes things like Saw, Escape Room or The Hunger Games, Panic fails to justify its existence, both as a game and a show. It asks a lot of the audience. For starters, how are we supposed to believe that every years, hundreds of graduating seniors gather in random places throughout the area to participate in games that could easily turn deadly without anyone knowing who they are?

On top of this, the game Panic is supposedly organized by two teenage game masters, as each year the previous year’s winners choose the new “judges” who go on to create these complex challenges. Normally, Panic doesn’t result in deaths, but I find that hard to believe given the games include everything from Russian roulette to walking blindfolded across a freeway to tigers.

So far, only two teens have actually died, and no one seems to care about the mysterious circumstances they died under. The death of these teens serves as a mystery subplot throughout the first season.

In Panic Season 1, we follow the main character Heather (Olivia Welch), who is initially not interested in playing Panic at all, until her mom steals her savings, leaving her broke and unable to afford college. As far as motivations go, this one is fairly believable, which says more about our broken education system than anything else.

After their graduation ceremony, Heather joins best friend Nat (Jessica Sula), who is also competing, her other best friend and love interest Bishop (Camron Jones), who is there for moral support, town redneck/bully/other half of the obligatory love triangle Ray (Ray Nicholson) and a mysterious newcomer with secrets Dodge Mason to compete in this year’s games.

Panic Season 1
Panic Season 1 – Courtesy of Matt Lankes/Amazon Studios /

Panic Season 1 can’t drum up enough thrills to be captivating

When I set out to watch Panic Season 1, I wasn’t anticipating anything brilliant. I just hoped it would be another entertaining teen show, or maybe even as good as Amazon’s other thrilling YA series, The Wilds. But Panic can’t find any sense of a spark. It’s duller than anything else, which is a real bummer. One would hope it would be just off the wall enough to keep you entertained.

Of the five episodes I watched to write this review, I found myself losing interest repeatedly. The only parts that held my interest were the actual challenges themselves, but they’re few and far between, with so many tedious subplots and placid teen drama that we’ve seen dozens of times (written better) in other shows before.

Even the game of Panic is hard to understand. The rules aren’t really explained since characters seem to be able to gain and lose points on a whim, robbing the game of any real tension or suspense. Then there are the betrayals. None of the relationships feel strong enough to carry the plot because people are constantly backstabbing each other left and right before you even get the chance to grow attached to them or their friendships.

I’ve read that the final two episodes of the series suddenly move at a breakneck pace with wild twists and strange mysteries pulled from thin air, but that by the end of the season, viewers are left in the dark to pivotal questions about who designed Panic and more. This sounds like a sequel hook more than anything, but I’m guessing that lack of resolution won’t do the show any favors with potential viewers.

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All ten episodes of Panic Season 1 are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.