TV Shows, Pop Culture

No, Netflix, this isn’t what a “strong female character” is like

Newsflash: mean girls are not "strong female characters".

At the end of August, Netflix dropped BBC’s teen drama thriller The A List (2018) in its cache. And as someone who’d just rejoined the streaming service and was looking for a new show to obsess over, it was an opportunity served on a queue platter. 

For starters, it’s classified under “Featuring A Strong Female Lead”, so what better show to start re-bingeing with? Fast forward 36 hours, I’m obsessed, I can’t stop thinking about The A List, and I want everyone in my vicinity to know.

I want everyone to know that The A List is a blot on “Strong Female Leads”.

The 13-episode serial follows the story of a group of campers summering on Peregrine Island. Teen drama ensues but there’s a twist – one of the campers is not like the others. Without giving much away, The A List is best described as a combination of Mean Girls, LOST, and Pretty Little Liars rolled into one. Throw in a sprinkle Gossip Girl for added drama. 

Meet our key characters: Mia the Mean Girl/Queen Bee, Kayleigh the Ass-kissing BFF, Alex the “I’m Too Cool and Edgy For You” Geek/Outcast, Harry the Socially Anxious Nerd, Dev the Unsuspecting Cute Boy, Dave and Mags the Painfully Oblivious Adults, and Amber the Rival Mean Girl/Queen Bee.

The plot is a dry mess of unanswered questions and unnecessary drama that I’m not going to even try and dissect with a five foot pole. My main beef with this show is its characterizations. More specifically, the fact that such characters were brought into life in 2018, and then grouped alongside the likes of Jessica Jones.

I don’t want to crap on someone’s creative work. I don’t want to badmouth roles that burgeoning actors choose to play, and I definitely don’t want to shit on the work of a script writer who’s associated with Doctor Who.

But hey – free speech!

To me, when characters are awarded the title of being a “Strong Female Lead”, it’s because they’re inspiring and empowering. 

They aren’t Mia who uses the excuse of her parents’ divorce and subsequent bad parenting to bully others. 

They aren’t Amber who uses the excuse of not being popular before to come back with a personality and physical overhaul and then manipulate and gaslight her way to the proverbial top. 

[Image description: A black-haired, brown teen cries as a blonde, white teen watches fixedly.] Via The A List Official on YouTube
[Image description: A black-haired, brown teen cries as a blonde, white teen watches fixedly.] Via The A List Official on YouTube
They aren’t Kayleigh who is presented as sweet and giggly but stands silent as bullying takes place in front of her.

They aren’t Alex who is seriously judgy – good God. 

They aren’t Mags who is a liar as well as surprisingly oblivious and dismissive of some serious red flag issues.

They aren’t Jenna or Petal – two supporting characters – with the first a clique-ist and the second using being “high” as an excuse to savagely lash out.

Sadly, the boys were just as devolved. They too were relegated to a mix of 90s and early 2000s stereotypical tropes consisting of one oblivious Cute Boy with random burst of emotions, one manhandling bad boy, one womanizing testosterone-driven jock, one soft boy tormented over his crush, and one anxiety-ridden nerd. 

And the cherry on top of this disappointing sundae is we see two girls “fighting” – guesses? Yup, Mia and Amber! – over Cute Boy + the build-up of a love triangle between Mean Girl 1, Cute Boy, and Bad Boy. 

The thriller aspect of the show did little to distract from the painfully underdeveloped characterizations which, to be frank, could only be the result of writing dedicated to not delivering an engaging, sustainable plot, but catering to viewers who enjoy consuming the shallow dressings of tropes gone by. 

Aside from serious emotional trauma, the characters barely had any growth. When I saw The A List had been listed as featuring a strong female lead, I assume they meant Mia. She was gaslit and bullied up and down the coast of Peregrine Island but came out intact. This credits her to a certain degree but not enough to be a shining example of female resilence.

After all, what did she learn? Did she grow at all? Or has she simply come out scathed yet relishing her petty victory over the other IT Girl? Did she ever consider, you know, being nice from the get-go?

If there ever is a season two of The A List, I hope it seriously addresses the many underlying issues of its characters, because if the writers continue to stick to what is clearly a redressing of older teen shows and films, they’ll find themselves quickly devolving to being used as the butt of pop culture jokes.