Dare Me Spoilers? Not here, friend.
Note: only the first three episodes were available for review.
A quiet intensity snakes its way through Dare Me, the USA Network cheerleading drama which arrived on Netflix Friday March 20.
That's no small feat for a series which deals in murder, all-consuming lust, irresponsible gun etiquette and the unrelenting savagery of teenage girls, as unforgiving with themselves as they are with one another.
Watching the two leads chewing and spitting their takeout is par for the course.
But Dare Me doesn't feel the need to erupt to keep your attention. Instead, what we get is a near-constant serving of simmering tension, where you never quite feel relaxed enough to settle – and it's addictive.
The narrative revolves around best friends and high school cheerleaders Addy Hanlon (Herizen Guardiola) and Beth Cassidy (Marlo Kelly), once thick as thieves but, with the arrival of new cheer coach Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald), finding themselves increasingly at odds with one another.
Their status is murky. The pair were clearly once something more than pals, more than soul sisters. But Beth appears to be the only one still wrapped up in that while Hanlon, as she's widely known, distances herself, bewitched by Colette.
From the moment the new coach arrives on the scene, Hanlon is spellbound, which Beth instantly seizes upon and rails against with little jagged snipes and sneers, her hackles raised at the prospect of losing her partner in crime to another.
Their relationship is the lynchpin of Dare Me, both playful and caustic, exhilarating and suffocating. Beth is a precarious presence in Hanlon's life, as her mother remarks, but Faith's displeasure at the company her daughter keeps is our gain, sustaining our interest throughout.
Beth is a compelling protagonist. She's reckless, unashamedly so – and while she does feel slightly crudely drawn at times, a paint-by-numbers wild child with daddy issues, you feel like she could explode at any moment. And she's given the space to, fobbed off with money by her high-flying, estranged father Bert, as if that's the key to building a sturdy father-daughter relationship.
You'd be forgiven for forgetting that Beth's mother exists. Lana is both physically and emotionally distant, her displays of maternal affection and concern stifled by the hole her ex-husband's infidelity left within her.
The more Beth's family is sketched out, the more you understand why she clings to Hanlon like her life depends on it. But as her friend drifts, she is left to her own devices and the consequences, as we discover from the series' opening scene, are deadly.
"It was f**king beautiful, until it went too far," says Hanlon's voiceover, her language seductive and obscure, carrying you along on its current.
Dare Me is adapted from Megan Abbott's novel of the same name and Hanlon's internal monologue, in particular, attests to that. There is a lyrical nature to her words, a poeticism which softens the series' harder edges.
In that moment, we also see blood on Hanlon's hands and phone. But it's not her own. A tragedy is set up from the outset, with every little detail foreshadowed by what's to come – a simple but smart move because instantly, you are locked in for the ride, showrunners Abbott and Gina Fattore ensuring that you'll see this one out.
But it takes its sweet time to get there, meandering without dragging, taking significant care to construct its three core characters – Hanlon, Beth and Colette – fleshing them out, wanting you to understand each of them at every step so that when the central who/what/whydunnit is exposed, it will feel credible.
The relationship between Hanlon and Colette also demands your attention.
Just when you think you've figured it out, the plates shift and you're kicked off balance, the duo dancing between a mentor/mentee dynamic and something that the Teaching Regulation Agency would have one or two concerns about.
Colette not only asks Hanlon to guard a monumental secret for her, she allows the teenager to play an active role in facilitating it.
You also sense that what they mean to one another will further deepen in troubling ways.
All of that is undercut by the fact that Beth, too, knows Colette's secret. But unlike Hanlon, who vows to protect it, she pledges to raise hell.
At the end of episode three, there's a lot left unsaid, with multiple threads hanging, each threatening disaster when they are inevitably pulled.
Dare Me is a darkly seductive series that explores how far people are willing to go to protect their secrets and get what they want, while wading through the acute agony and ecstasy of the teen condition, albeit heightened.
It's a seamless blend of tangible, real-world relatability and high-stakes drama, both trashy and perceptive, serving up some much-needed escapism in these trying and troublesome times.
Dare Me is available to stream now on Netflix.
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