Theoretically, we should only want to watch the best that television has to offer. After all, we only have a limited time on this earth. But that’s not how humans work. We’re not logical. We’re impulsive, brash, and often crave easy and fun, over enriching. Sometimes what you desperately need is a trash TV show to numb your anxieties for 10 hours. And on the trashy TV front, Panic is about the best of the worst. You’re not going to learn one thing about yourself from watching Panic; but you are guaranteed to have a fun time.
Based on the novel by author turned showrunner Lauren Oliver, Panic is what would happen if Saw, American Gladiator, and The Hunger Games had a threesome. Stuck in a small Texan town, a group of teenagers do what teens do best and find a way to get into trouble. But these particular teens are pros when it comes to antics. That’s how Panic came to be, an illegal competition that tests the fears of its various underage contestants. Win, and you get tens of thousands of dollars as a cash prize. Lose, and you risk serious injury, or even death. Trapped in the middle of this world is Heather (Olivia Welch), a cautious girl who wants nothing to do with the games. But thanks to her manipulative mother that all changes. If Heather wants a shot at leaving her small town she’s going to have to embrace her courageous side.
Almost every part of Panic hits the young adult formula. There are characters who routinely say nonsense words in reference to a competition that’s simultaneously over and under explained. There’s a teen girl who claims she’s too timid to compete and yet immediately excels. There are multiple love interests who hide even more secrets. Mysterious symbols, double crossing agents, fairly obvious riddles that somehow confound adults — Panic has it all! But it plays those known chords pretty well.
And then there’s Panic, the game itself. Watching people complete a series of admittedly dumb challenges is always gripping. How else do you explain the success of Survivor and The Amazing Race? Panic has dumb competitions galore, from making people walk over a plank hundreds of feet in the air to documenting a Saw-like puzzle in a barn full of rats. Even if you’re mad at whoever is currently trying not to scream, it’s fun to watch people complete challenges. That these people are teenagers who are risking their lives while running from the police makes it even more addicting.
Is that a good lesson for teenagers? Absolutely not. No one should ever use Panic as a guide for how to spend their free time, least of all high schoolers. But deadly dares combined with dodging the authorities is fantasy catnip. That particular combination encompasses roughly 80 percent of every teenager’s favorite stories. Of course a show that pushes dumb teen danger to the absolute limits is a blast.
Apart from the creative use of a tiger, there’s not much in Panic that’s revolutionary. Chances are you’ll see the season’s big twist coming from a mile away. But who cares? Panic is silly, ridiculous fun. Sometimes after a rough day of dealing with bills, emails, and budgets you need a shot of irresponsible adventure. That’s the fleeting relief Panic offers in spades.
Watch Panic on Prime Video