The world needs shows like The Innocents right now. At its heart, it’s a love story between love-struck teenagers June (Sorcha Groundsell) and Harry (Percelle Ascott), and their relationship is wonderfully, awkwardly relatable. Except for the bit where June discovers she’s a shapeshifter, and someone shows up to kidnap her, and everything generally goes to hell within hours of the pair running away from their grim northern homes in episode 1. And while all this sounds like your average ‘big opener’ for a TV season that starts strong and quickly trails into mediocrity, one of The Innocents’ best features is that it slow burns, consistency, throughout leading to a conclusion that’s satisfying without being too dramatic. It’s a considered, entertaining, and ultimately positive slice of TV.
The relationship between Harry and June is key to the success of the show. While occasionally naive and a little too innocent for more life-experienced watchers, it’s the perfect representation of hopeful teenage romance, even during the most extraordinary and weird moments. Many will likely roll their eyes at certain life choices the pair make, especially when they reach London, early in the show (I’m trying to avoid any real spoilers here), but ultimately it’s exactly the kind of behaviour you’d expect from a pair who fled a small town in northern England to pursue a life together based on little more than soppy love notes and a desire to follow their dreams.
Groundsell’s portrayal of June is great, but it’s Ascott’s Harry that deserves huge plaudits, especially as we see his vulnerability and confusion later in the show as he struggles to deal with what June actually is, and how it relates to the rest of his life. As the mysteries in The Innocents become clearer, so does the depth of the lead characters, giving a wonderfully positive message about self-belief and the power of knowing yourself in times of crisis and doubt.
If there are weaknesses in The Innocents’ human stories, they lie in the secondary cast. Guy Pearce’s Dr Halvorson is brilliantly sibylline right until the end, and June’s father - John - goes through a pleasingly redemptive journey, but the remainder feel like plot devices to steer or halt the narrative at key points. The group at Sanctum in Norway, who have been gathered by Halvorson, rarely really manage to become interesting (aside from a tender moment by the lake), and Steiner’s attempts to track down June and Harry on behalf of the doctor range from incompetent to clownish. As such, what could have been a decent story of a struggling ex-alcoholic feels a little wasted, despite adding occasional moments of much-needed pace to the plot.
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And yes, despite being well-scripted and pleasingly slow-burn, The Innocents does occasionally need a swift kick up the arse when it comes to pacing. There are several moments when the viewer will be willing a plotline to move on, or for a character to finally understand what’s really happening, especially when it comes to the parents attempting to make sense of things back up north. It’s not a huge issue, and there’s no mid-season slump here, but there are a few scenes where even the most ardent fans may glaze over. For every slow scene, however, there are a handful of genuinely touching moments, or story arcs that showcase genuine, relatable moments of humanity. Overall, it makes for a show that remains positive despite overwhelmingly negative odds, and that’s a fine accomplishment.
What also deserves a special mention is the soundtrack. Mixing modern covers of classic ballads, moody Scandinavian vocal tracks, and some painfully cool up-and-coming songs, The Innocents is pitch perfect for its core, young adult audience. While the show’s themes of identity and bravery are very universal, the soundtrack and settings position the show very definitely in a time and place. Fans of both British and Scandi drama will feel right at home with the aesthetic, and you genuinely get a sense that you’re watching something effortlessly cool that isn’t trying to imitate or follow another TV series or trend.
While there are few genuine shocks and revelations along the way (the shapeshifting element is literally addressed in the opening sequence, and June’s transformation is signposted loud and clear, from the start), The Innocents keeps things interesting throughout its run, and the finale creates enough peril to feel like a decent season closer. At the end, you feel like you’ve been on a journey with the leads, and you’ve emerged on the other side far wiser and less, well, innocent than when you started. In this sense, the show is a resounding success, and there’s little doubt it will speak to you if you’re a young adult still trying to figure out life, or indeed anyone who occasionally suffers a crisis of identity or confidence. Those expecting a faster-paced, more melodramatic supernatural story will be disappointed, but overall this is well worth a watch.
The Innocents (full season) is available now on Netflix, worldwide.