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Netflix Review: ‘We Are the Wave’ Falls Short of Greatness

November 1, 2019
5 min read

In 1967, a history teacher in California came up with an experiment to demonstrate for his students the effect of Hitler’s ideologies on anyone living in a democracy. It was a well-intentioned exercise, very well thought-out, but even he couldn’t predict the aftermath. When he started losing control of his students, who were spurring a movement of their own, the teacher had to come up with another clever idea to put an end to it.

Soon, he became famous for this act and it was brought to screen in 1981 in the form a TV movie, titled ‘The Wave’. The same year, Todd Strasser novelised the story, which has now been adapted as a series by Netflix. Even half-a-century or so later, the classroom experiment continues to be as, if not more, relevant as it was back then. The literary and cinematic adaptations have allowed the idea to spread far and wide, and deliver a thought-provoking exercise to everyone around the world. And that’s exactly why adaptations are so necessary. To further the cause, to spread the message. And most importantly, to contribute further to the story. Sadly, ‘We Are the Wave’ doesn’t do much on that front.

It begins in a school, where students are divided into “winners” and “losers”. The popular kids tease and bully the loners, shower them with all sorts of degrading titles, and use their weaknesses to torment them. The ones who are being bullied have learnt to keep their mouth shut and survive the everyday ordeal. Of course, they want to fight back, but they don’t have the strength and even the courage to do it. But this changes when Tristan Broch joins the school. He is smart and strong, and his ‘devil may care’ attitude instantly turns him into the talk of the town. He could be popular, but he befriends the so-called losers. He, too, focuses on their weaknesses, but instead of using it against them, he helps them to rise above their situation and fight their oppressors. It begins with fighting back the bullies in school and ends with fighting the system. Tristan and his group spark a movement, but when it turns into a wildfire that they can’t control, it turns into a hazard.

Through the ideologies and actions of its characters, ‘We Are the Wave’ presents a scenario which is all too familiar to the audience. Considering the urgency that we find ourselves in, especially in these times where extremists rise to power, corporations make profits while ruining what is left of our environment, and crime and corruption run rampant, it becomes important to show a story that not just incites action in the youth, but also warns them against turning into the demons they are trying so hard to tame. And to some extent, this show manages to do that.

It is well-written, with characters with great potential at the fore. By showing us their problems, it gives an explanation of their deeds but doesn’t try to legitimise them. It shows us how even good intentions can turn into something inherently bad. It warns us against violent and aggressive actions, gives a picture of the consequences that they bring, but also shines a light on the alternative. “If not this, then what” is what young people are often forced to ask, especially when they are told to not do the thing that they think is right, to not go forward with the heroic act that they think will save the world. There is always a peaceful way to do things, and that’s what ‘We Are the Wave’ propagates as well.

Despite this relevant lesson, the show holds back its own potential. Its characters are portrayed as daring heroes, the risk-takers, but the story itself seems afraid to dive deeper. The lessons that it teaches don’t add anything new to the syllabus. And most importantly, it doesn’t surpass its source material. Even though the show is “loosely” based on the book, you’d think that this connection would induce the fire of ‘The Wave’ into ‘We Are the Wave’. Even though it has been modernised, you’d think that the show would try to share the spirit of the book, or the film, or the actual social experiment that started it all. However, nothing of this sort happens.

For those who haven’t read the book and the ones who haven’t seen many teen dramas, ‘We Are the Wave’ is actually a great watch. In six episodes, the story is fairly condensed, and everything seems to the point. Yes, it goes astray sometimes, but that isn’t something you can’t ignore. However, those who are familiar with its counterparts, the show will seem a bland remake. It is neither as controversial nor as riveting as the incident that is supposed to have inspired it. ‘We Are the Wave’ is good, but not good enough.

Rating: 3/5

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