I Know What You Did Last Summer is the latest IP grab to hit the small screen, an updated spin on the 1997 Kevin Williamson movie, which was itself a modern take on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel of the same name. The premise remains the same, wherein a group of young friends are stalked by a killer after they cover up a death. But the I Know What You Did Last Summer series, seemingly desperate to pick up the special sauce of recent hit teen shows, blends together the standout elements of all the latest and greatest only to achieve soulless unoriginality.
Everyone wants to be the next teen show sensation. It’s hard to look at recent series like Riverdale, Euphoria, the Gossip Girl reboot, , and grown-ish and not want to chase the fanfare of their releases or streaming numbers. However, like the game of trying to be popular in high school, it’s social suicide to ape the Queen Bee and do it badly. For Sara Goodman’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, arriving on Amazon, it feels like a deliberate attempt to capture the magic of other teen shows without contributing any of its own organic charm. The result? A poser-ish teen murder mystery adrift in its own identity.
From the start, the premise of I Know What You Did Last Summer feels well worn, and not just because of the pop culture status of the movie that came before it. Upon high school graduation, a group of friends and twin sisters (Madison Iseman, Brianne Tju, Ezekiel Goodman, Ashley Moore, and Sebastian Amoruso) go out to a lavish party and make questionable decisions, ranging from risky drug and alcohol use to eyebrow-arching hook-ups. With nearly everyone impaired and/or emotionally strung out by the end of the night, mistakes are made, which appear harmless until someone drops a body. Avoiding the police, the friends take matters into their own hands and subvert the charges. When the whole gang returns to Hawaii for their first college summer break, their illusion of safety shatters. “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER” appears in lipstick on the protagonist’s mirror and it’s over: someone knows what they did and is out for blood revenge.
The rest of the show meanders in its attempts at suspense and intrigue. The writers sprinkle in shock value in a literal sense, through unexplained and graphic-for-graphic’s sake scenes, often without justification. Over time, these repeated stabs at startling the audience undercut the operation at hand: neither the mystery nor characterization is moving forward. Combine both of these factors with a stilted grasp on youth culture—think missteps with current slang—and I Know What You Did Last Summer takes on a queasy quality. No one likes watching a try-hard fail to hit the notes over and over again.
Beyond this show’s sins of uncoolness, there are harsher critiques on the table. Queer representation makes its way onto the screen, but often for titillating means. In some cases, it’s a matter of burying the lede; like a character pretending to perform for the male gaze while truly trying to explore herself. But by the way these scenes are shot, it’s too easy to view them as the writers checking a representation box without fully doing the work to represent that identity faithfully—and without further sexualization. In the order of violence that falls over the show, there’s room for calling a “bury your gays” trope. Same goes for full frontal nudity. There’s nothing wrong with naked bodies, but IKWYDLS uses them as instruments of shock so often that grime climbs the walls.
Screening these eight episodes that make up Season 1 of I Know What You Did Last Summer, there’s an impulse to want to tell this show to find itself. Slow down. Stop ripping from what you admire and highlight your genuine strengths. Like a lost high school freshman, this series clings to stereotypical safeties without giving itself permission to really swing for the fences. Yes, it occasionally copies Euphoria’s lighting and makeup, as well as Gossip Girl and You’s digital stalking and surveillance narratives, and Riverdale’s camp. Together, it makes for an unholy collage, barely able to stand on its own two legs. If gets renewed, let’s hope it takes the time to find itself over summer break—because I know what it did this time doesn’t work.
The first four episodes of I Know What You Did Last Summer premiere Friday, October 15th on Amazon Prime, with new episodes released weekly.
Katherine Smith is Virginia-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste Magazine. For her musings on popular culture, politics, and beyond, find her on Twitter @k_marie_smith
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