How Clique masters tone to present a tightly wound thriller

Clique is BBC Three’s new young adult thriller, centred around university life; it’s mired in loneliness, doubt and risk, set in the centre of a transitional time. It focuses on the alluring glamour of an elite world, and the darkness that lurks beneath the surface. It takes issues that have almost become cliché in their ubiquity, yet forges new ground in their depiction by grounding them so adeptly within the thriller genre.

And it’s also one of the best programmes the BBC has produced in years.

The premier episode exists in a liminal space of uncertainty, with every frame of the episode imbued with a subtle sense of discomfort. In turn, then, Clique becomes a particularly tense and taut hour of television, crafted with a real precision that positions it as one of the most effective pieces of drama BBC Three has put out in a long, long time.

Part of this discomfort is a gradual probing of the darker aspects of the world that Clique presents; from the twisted energy of the party scene to the high-pressure competition of internship applications, this is a show that focuses on delving into the depths without holding back. Indeed, there’s an unrelenting intensity to Clique that’s borne of this incremental unveiling of the darkness, carried well by nuanced characters and compelling performances. Synnove Karlsen and Aisling Franciosi ground the drama as Clique’s main characters, while Louise Brealey gives a captivating performance as Jude McDermid, the enigmatic lecturer whose electric charisma warps the narrative around her.

This all leaves Clique as one of the most cohesive programmes on television around, with an effortlessly self-assured understanding of its own identity and its own place in the pantheon of teen dramas. If it sounds dismissive to term Clique a ‘teen drama’, it isn’t – as executive producer and Skins creator Bryan Elsley put it, “teen drama is where it’s all happening”.

He’s not wrong. Clique is powerful in a way that the standard ‘adult’ drama isn’t, grappling with its themes far more intelligently; in some respects, it’s liberated by its online home, approaching the subject matter with a greater freedom than it might have had on terrestrial television. There’s a genuine feeling that Clique is breaking new ground, presenting its audience with something quite unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. It’s an entirely new take on the young adult noir thriller, existing in a world that’s seen Skins, and Fleabag, and Riverdale, and advances a unique spin on universal themes.

It’s difficult to overstate quite how good Clique is. In many ways, it’s not so different from the elite group it depicts; a glossy sheen on the surface hides the intricate nuances that lie beneath. No doubt over the next few weeks, Clique will continue to peel back the layers, throwing the audience further into the deep end. It’s an exciting prospect to consider – if Clique continues with the same unrelenting intensity it’s maintained so far, it could well prove to be one of the most influential young adult dramas for years to come.

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