Per Matt
Carp, Texas is a small town with a big secret. This one has a game, where its losers stay to live their lives and the winners get to leave, but only if they can defy death by not panicking. It’s a horror-themed game show of sorts, one with deadly high stakes.

I really wasn’t sure how I was going to connect to Amazon Studios’ new series, Panic, as I am technically outside of its intended Young Adult demographic (much like Lauren Oliver’s novel). Oliver has adapted her own story for the small screen and its small-town charm of hopelessly needing to escape was immediate.

“Carp is actually the capital of nothing: Nothing happening, nothing changing, nothing you want to see or do.”

Graduating high-school seniors are eligible to participate in this “game” throughout the summer, competing for the grand prize of $50,000. New contestants, new judges, new challenges and new rules are created each year, but one thing is constant: There can only be one winner. And much like Fight Club, you don’t ever talk about Panic in the public, now that a couple of teenagers have died while participating in the previous year’s contests.

Teenagers are complicated creatures, naturally. So, it’s only fitting that their characters portray both the protagonists, as well as the antagonists in this storyline. These kids protect themselves and cover their tracks well, as it’s a race against time for the local sheriff’s department to find and stop the deadly games before someone else gets killed.

This feels like a real-life escape game is being played. Cryptic clues must be deciphered in order to know where and when the next challenge will take place, turning the “game” into a scavenger hunt, as well, for the 23 contestants. So, what happens to a young lady who’s literally scared of everything, with no other option than to compete in this game against her best friend, when her mother steals her college savings fund? Friends become enemies, then frenemies, and ultimately partners who plan to split the winnings. We’ll see how long those plans last…

The pilot really dragged me into this world, which felt somewhat familiar. Born and raised on the outskirts of a small town, I kind of recognized Carp and the urge to move far, far away when I was able (in my case, it was a big city). The next level of this game is presented in the second episode, as each player seems to be hiding some sort of dark secrets. And then listen all y’all, it’s sabotage! The third episode ramps up the danger factor, while death always seems to be a possibility lurking in the background.

Labyrinths, wilderness drops, illegal entry, physical stamina, pain, stress and animal challenges are all fair game here. While watching this, my mind began to race back to my my formative years, way back when Double Dare was in its glory days of game shows. I wondered if Oliver originally thought of turning that game-show concept super deadly, which eventually led to the novel’s creation.

Other programs have combined game shows with bloody consequences and Panic is clearly not the first. But the first two episodes, at least, make a strong statement about this show’s direction, and they intrigued me.

As I have only watched a third of the show’s first season (out of 10 episodes), it feels like the risk factors are about to ramp up, but so far, the challenges have felt a tad tame (in a PG-13 sense). That’s the lone bit of constructive criticism I’ve got. The acting, writing and directing are all acceptable, I was just expecting more in the horror department.

At some point, we’re all afraid of something. But as long as you keep running, your fears will stay behind you, whether that’s small-town life, family issues or even Young Adult television series. Tread carefully, if you expect to survive!