We all had homicidal thoughts about our annoying classmates in high school. If you didn't, rest assured that someone had them about you. Well, Deadly Class takes that teenage aggression to a whole new level by training the next generation of assassins in every subject they need to know to be able to kill effectively. The Syfy adaptation of Wes Craig and Rick Remender's graphic novel of the same name is a vivid and sometimes disturbing take on your typical high school story with literally killer stakes.
Set during the Reagan administration — apparently during an explosion of goth and punk, according to the kick-ass soundtrack and wardrobe — Deadly Class follows Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth), a homeless teen being hunted down by the police for allegedly burning his former boys home down to the ground. He's living on the streets when he gets recruited by King's Dominion, an underground private school teaching the sons and daughters of warlords, gang leaders and mob bosses how to kill. If Marcus thought that surviving on the streets was tough, he reaches a whole new level of fight or flight within the walls of his new school and discovers an aptitude for revenge he never knew existed.
While the first episode is quick to introduce you to the various gangs and squads that make up the King's Dominion student body, it takes a few more to figure out where your allegiances lie within the various groups. You'll like Deadly Class from the beginning, but it takes a beat for you to actually fall in love.
There is one exception to that statement. Lana Condor, who became an internet sensation last summer as Lara-Jean Covey in Netflix's To All the Boys I've Loved Before, is an immediate stand-out from this remarkable cast. Full sleeve tattoos and a lethal ability with a katana make her Saya almost completely unrecognizable from Lara-Jean, which is what makes her character so great. She's mysterious and still endearing without being soft. And she's clearly a head above her fellow students when it comes to balancing her killer skills with her teenage angst. Her cool demeanor makes you anxious to know what she's going to do next. It's no wonder the boys are in love with her and the girls want to be just like her. She's the legacy of a Japanese crime family who left Tokyo under mysterious circumstances after the death of her father, and if every episode was about how she became the badass she is, I wouldn't complain.
That's not to say there's nothing special about the rest of Marcus' other classmates. Each character is well-defined from the get-go, representing their pre-determined groups. It's only as Marcus begins to navigate through the cliques in later episodes that you begin to see the deeper levels to these characters, like Willie (Luke Tennie) and Maria (Maria Gabriela de Faria), whose fronts almost end Marcus' life but inevitably break your heart and endear you to them.
The fractured groups and racially divided dynamics of Deadly Class is actually the meatiest part of the show, more so than the violent curriculum. Despite the premise, Deadly Class is less gruesome than what you'd see in the Marvel Netflix shows. Yes, there's a lot of blood but it doesn't feel gratuitous within the context of the show, and Deadly Class is at its best when it explores which students use which methods of violence and for what reasons. They are training kids to be killers, but they aren't doing it without conscience.
Deadly Class is a medium burn that takes a few episodes to get hot, but if you give in you'll find yourself seduced by the mysterious world of King's Dominion and anxious to see which of its brightest pupils will have the stamina and gall to survive to graduation.
Deadly Class premieres Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 10/9c on Syfy.