Netflix’s first original Thai drama The Stranded (เคว้ง) does not necessarily break any new ground plot-wise. But it is refreshing in its treatment of the familiar material and in its featuring of talented Thai actors.
The Stranded opens with a group of high schoolers partying the night of their graduation and their final night on the secluded island where their elite private high school is located. But a tsunami strikes without warning, leaving just the 30+ students as seemingly the only survivors on the island. It’s already been 25 days and they are unable to make contact with the mainland and no one has come to rescue them yet. In those almost four weeks since the tsunami, the students have already adjusted to their life on the island with no electricity and limited resources.
If that set-up already sounds like something you may have seen before, the different characters we meet will also feel familiar.
There’s the seemingly perfect couple Anan and May who emerge as the leader and makeshift doctor of the survivors. There’s Arisa, the cold loner, sixth sense-posessing Nahm, peacemaker Joey, resident bad boy Ice and his non-student girlfriend Ying, couple in love Krit and Jack as well as Jack’s sister Jan and the resident goofballs Nat and Gun.
To top it all off, there’s the local island boy Kraam who is able to attend the fancy school with a scholarship. But also seemingly holds the key to an eerie and supernatural mystery that quickly emerges from the island.
The Stranded undoubtedly draws influence from Lost and any number of teen angst dramas. The series dips into Lost-style flashbacks to the students’ lives before the tsunami, revealing many a dramatic and often painful past for each of them.
The series also reminds me of an excellent Korean miniseries from KBS entitled White Christmas, also involving stranded teens at their elite high school.
But while White Christmas was a deep, psychological and philosophical thriller, The Stranded presents a more visceral experience. The Lord of the Flies-type politics of the group trying to survive are mixed with typical soapy teen romance and angst and then injected with ample amounts of the supernatural.
That the first season is only seven episodes works in its favor as well as hinders it from being better. The positive is that the story moves at a breakneck speed. The fast-paced storytelling gives just enough time for the viewer to soak in each plot and character development before it almost abruptly switches to the next thing. Suffice it to say, there isn’t really a dull moment in the brisk pace of the series.
But that said, there are times when the series could benefit from having time to breathe. Or more so, in having its story developments time to breathe.
However, we are dropped into the lives of the survivors almost four weeks after we first meet them. So it is not unreasonable to assume the cabin fever, frustration and sense of hopelessness has begun to wear on them. Things are certain to get pretty crazy. And they definitely do, including some interestingly questionable character turns halfway through.
But as solid and interesting the emotional character moments are, the most interesting aspect of the series will be the supernatural element. The island seemingly holds many secrets. And in many ways, the mystery is actually introduced and handled better here than it ever was on Lost.
While the questions posed about that central mystery abound, you don’t feel the frustration (yet) and only clamor for more. Especially at the end of the seventh episode. The finale (quite literally) opens the door to a whole number of possibilities for future seasons and a great potential to improve on the solid foundation they’ve laid out in this first season.
The young cast, supported by some well-known and experienced actors, are able to carry their weight. They are more than believable in their roles. And for the ones that get some of the juicier material, they deliver very well in a way that really does make you care about them and their fates. And that is usually a very positive sign that the show is doing something right.
Netflix has made it a point to expand their portfolio of originals coming out of Asia. So it is to be commended and appreciated that even though a series like The Stranded includes familiar themes, the different faces and different locales it features make it a refreshing and different experience. And for an Asian-American viewer like myself, it’s especially welcome to see such a production.
(I’m actually quite jealous and hope an original Filipino Netflix series is developed soon!)
The Stranded includes English dubbing, but watching the series in its original Thai dialogue with English subtitles is the way to go. The dubbed version appears to lose so much from the original dialogue. Not just in delivery, but actual lines of dialogue are different too as I noticed once trying it out for an episode.
(I do prefer original audio and English subtitles in the first place. But for this series, it seems to be more essential than usual.)
So while The Stranded doesn’t necessarily break new ground in plot, it’s high quality production, stunning cinematography, fast paced storytelling, talented cast and engaging delivery make it a worthwhile ~5 and a half hour binge. It will definitely leave you wanting more. (Though as of this writing, no word yet on a season 2!)