“Panic” takes place in the small town of Carp, Texas (though no one has an accent), the kind of place that takes teenage optimism and flattens it, turning bright-eyed youth into dead-eyed people who have never left home. Of course, every little town still has its dreamers, and the teens of Carp have a unique way of encouraging at least one person to live out their wildest ambitions, a secret game called Panic that only teens know about. Each year, the graduates face each other in a game of increasingly intense challenges, the kind of getting people killed. Each challenge earns points. For example, the game begins near a reservoir with the kind of cliff nearby that teens often challenge themselves to jump. Anyone who does this when first announces their participation in the game, which will include several things that would make their parents scream, such as home invasions, blindfolded highways and maybe even Russian roulette. And everyone remembers what happened last year when two children died. However, the pull of $ 50,000 for the winner is too great for new players to ignore.
Believe it or not, this concept of “Hunger Games” is largely just the backdrop for a relatively straightforward teen drama (with just enough sex and swear words to distinguish it from a standard offering on The CW). Take Olivia Welch (Heather Nill), the show’s main lady and someone who seems like one of Carp’s brightest stars before her junkie mom derails her life. She has issues with parents, trust issues, and possibly romantic issues, of course, including some kind of unexpected love triangle. Her best friend is Natalie (Jessica Sula, giving the best performance of the series), who is initially frustrated that she now has to make the match against Olivia, but ends up working with her. The initially promising angle of two young women lining up to win a contest of very dominant men is sadly cast aside by so many of the city’s secrets and melodramatic characters revealed.
Everyone at Carp has a secret. The new guy, wonderfully named Dodge Mason (Mike Faist), is so obsessed with Panic that no one will be surprised to learn he has a connection to her. Olivia’s other best friend Bishop (Camron Jones) hides more than his obvious feelings for Olivia, while bad town boy Ray Hall (Ray Nicholson) is also not exactly what he seems. Even adults, including authorities who try to stop Panic before another teenager dies, are hiding secrets. “Panic” is too thick with soap opera twists that derail any honest emotion that might have arisen from this concept, which fuses the typical teen rebellion and ambition with something new. Whenever it comes down to YA’s straightforward drama, especially the really poor scenes with Heather’s mom, “Panic” succumbs to mediocrity.