WonderCon 2017: Class Pilot Review, by David Bax
Before the opening titles of the new Doctor Who spinoff series, Class, a high school student has already been killed. Immediately after the titles, two fellow students remark that “everyone knows” how often teenagers at Coal Hill Academy go missing but “they just pretend” not to notice. For fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this will only be the first wolf whistle indicating that the two series have much in common. There are so many similarities, in fact, that in a later scene, a character comes right out and says that Coal Hill, which is a “beacon” for interdimensional baddies, is like the “Hellmouth.” Ultimately, the new show (or at least its pilot) mostly lives up to the challenge of such lofty comparisons. And it’s a whole lot bloodier than Buffy ever was, too.
Unlike the classic series from which it has spun off (and very much like Buffy), Class appears to be far more horror than science fiction. The pilot has secrets to reveal that I won’t spoil here but the thrust is that a disparate group of students find themselves bound together by what they uncover about their school and the backstories of certain students and teachers. By the end, after a superbly chaotic finale, it’s clear they’re ready to face the supernatural challenges coming their way together.
Class is notably British in a number of ways, especially in the specifics of its multicultural cast with its character of Pakistani and West Indies backgrounds. In other ways, though, it’s a bit distracting to American eyes. For instance, the climactic showdown of the pilot takes place during the school’s “Autumn Prom.” What? Does that exist?
That’s a minor quibble, though. If there’s a major one to be had, its with the show’s aesthetic. Over the past ten to fifteen years, television has established a certain look. There’s been an increase in professionalism behind the camera but not in character or personality. Maybe it’s the accelerated pace of television production but even as shows look better and better, they also tend to all look the same. Class is no exception.
Where Class does distinguish itself is in its characters and its cheekily dark sense of humor. The nerdy girl (Sophie Hawkins) who’s tasked with decorating for the dance but is also one of those who becomes aware of the existential dangers of Coal Hill ends up making banners with slogans like, “You may die tonight so try not to be stupid.” Class‘s best creation, though, is the teacher Miss Quill, an offbeat, mysterious badass who may be good or bad but is nonetheless compellingly watchable thanks to the performance of Katherine Kelly. With talent like hers, Class could graduate to a must-watch series.