Stop. Watch. Listen

'The Girl from St Agnes' is just a local remake of 'Thirteen Reasons Why'

Showmax's first attempt at drama falls horribly and disappointingly short of the mark

03 February 2019 - 00:06
Jane DeWet plays Lexi Summerfeld in Showmax's new series 'The Girl from St Agnes'.
Jane DeWet plays Lexi Summerfeld in Showmax's new series 'The Girl from St Agnes'.
Image: Supplied

AT A GLANCE:

WHAT: The Girl from St Agnes, a Showmax original series.

WHEN: Eight episodes are available to stream on Showmax.

WHY: Well, that's the question and based on the first two episodes, it's unsure.

FULL REVIEW: 

Following on the success of last year's Showmax original series - the adequately cringeworthy Cape Town-set comedy Tali's Wedding Diary - the local streaming service now presents its first foray into dramatic territory.

The eight-episode self-contained drama series is set in the world of a fictional KZN Midlands private boarding school where the death of a student throws everything and everyone into turmoil as their deepest, darkest secrets are unravelled. 

Based on a viewing of the first two episodes, The Girl from St Agnes is a perfect example of the frustrating problems that have beset the SA film industry over the past 25 years.

'The Girl from St Agnes' is a perfect example of the frustrating problems that have beset the SA film industry over the past 25 years

Before continuing I should point out that I live in a glass house as far as this issue is concerned - I have written and produced a number of perfectly adequate, non-confrontational, not particularly insightful shows for local television over the years.

That being said, there was a now-oft-forgotten moment in the early post-democracy days when it seemed as if we might be on the way to producing local content that had something relevant and uncomfortable but necessary to say about the time and place in which we lived.

The first seasons of Yizo Yizo and the protests against the politics of a miniseries like The Line - which dealt with the IFP/ANC violence of the early '90s - augured well for a vibrant environment of relevant but difficult cultural production that spoke to our present, irrespective of the outrage of morally indignant conservatives and the self-appointed gatekeepers tasked with judging what was best for "our people".

Since then the focus of the local film and television industry has shifted to producing perfectly adequate if asinine versions of what's already out there, true to genre entertainments for local consumption. It's within this comfortable, non-abrasive, not very specific or locally relevant box that The Girl From St Agnes easily fits.

WATCH | The trailer for The Girl From St Agnes

When Lexi Summerfeld (Jane DeWet) is found dead on the night of a Valentine's Day dance at St Agnes, the seemingly respectable but closeted world of the institution is thrown into chaos. The official version is that she committed suicide, but try telling that to Lexi's slightly rebellious drama instructor Kate Ballard (Nina Miller) or her sidekick and fellow teacher Dylan McMahon (Karl Thaning).

Sound familiar? Of course it does because it's the same plot as Netflix's inexplicably popular YA series Thirteen Reasons Why and basically as original as an episode of Midsomer Murders or Murder She Wrote relocated to a South African setting.

No offence to the cast of old and new SA talent on show here - including Graham Hopkins (predictably cast as the principal), Tessa Jubber and Robert Hobbs - but really?

A quarter of a century after democracy with all of its dramatic political intrigue, racially problematic tensions and perplexing power dynamics - and this is the best that you
can offer to the world and, more insultingly, local audiences?

Everyone involved does a perfectly acceptable job insofar as the look, feel and performances are concerned, but when it comes to demonstrating that SA can do more than just replicate the expectations of a thousand other shows, Showmax's first attempt at drama falls horribly and disappointingly short of the mark.


X