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Stream It or Nah: Paramount+'s Ghostly Whodunnit, 'School Spirit'

By Allyson Johnson | TV | March 9, 2023 |

By Allyson Johnson | TV | March 9, 2023 |


It’s perfectly acceptable to dislike a TV show. Time is precious and should be spent on worthwhile endeavors. School Spirits, the newest addition to Paramount+, is not a worthwhile endeavor.

Megan Trinrud and Nate Trinrud created the series, which stars Peyton List as Maddie, a teenage girl who finds herself trapped in the afterlife while observing her friends and family attempting to solve her suspected murder. The show initially captures the audience’s attention by blending a murder mystery with a coming-of-age story and keeping the characters confined to the high school setting, with Maddie’s direct companions being other individuals who died on school premises. The plot is split into two parts that aim to provide closure, with Maddie fighting to uncover the truth about her death and identify the person responsible for it.

It’s not a particularly good show, despite an intriguing premise that merges various genres and themes, including romance. The cast consists mostly of fresh faces who bring varying levels of engagement to their roles. The inclusion of a Phoebe Bridgers song in the first episode is a plus.

The problem is that the premise isn’t fully delivered on. It’s used mainly as background dressing. It becomes redundant, fast, how often our lead character refuses to listen to her fellow ghosts who’ve been stuck in this bizarre purgatory for far longer. The cast, as mentioned, are varying in their level of talent to the point where a single scene is unbalanced due to their gap in ability. And that Phoebe Bridgers song? It was already used in the markedly better Apple TV series Shrinking.

The lead character’s unlikability causes the show to veer off course quickly. Maddie, a teenager who was likely murdered by someone she knew and trusted, is designed to be a grouch. However, despite sympathy for her plight and the understanding that she has earned the right to be difficult, it is irksome when lead characters in a crowd of people going through the exact same thing for a longer time complain about how nobody else could understand their situation and how much their lives matter compared to others. This flaw in writing forces Maddie to ignore any presented reasoning and allows her to be proven right in the end. At this point, it is not just an unpleasant characteristic of a realistically imperfect character but also a significant flaw in the show’s writing.

Characters who break free from their designated tropes fare better. Maddie’s best friends, Simon (Kristian Flores) and Nicole (Kiara Pichardo), are the most enjoyable to watch. However, in the first three episodes, they are apart for too long to truly understand their personalities. Any information we learn about them as a friend group feels like an afterthought, merely used to explain the tension between them and others in Maddie’s circle. Flores excels in the dry one-liner friend role, while Pichardo only gets a chance to flourish in episode three when she’s given a piece of the plot.

Spencer Macpherson, as Maddie’s boyfriend Xavier, has a more extensive range of material to work with in episode three, once the show moves past using him as a brooding loner archetype. The characters sharing the afterlife with Maddie struggle with weaker hands, having to play people who have remained tethered to one space for decades, still holding onto period-specific language and references. Nick Pugliese, Sarah Yarkin, and Milo Manheim display hints of charisma, but these are not developed further.

We all have personal barometers of what kind of not-great television we can tolerate. As someone who watched a lot of Teen Wolf, Arrow, and The Flash and has had actual thoughts on reality television, the barometer I’m working with is inclusive. This is especially true since there are plenty of instances where “bad” means either a. It doesn’t count as “prestige” worthy, or b. It doesn’t have the budget of many prestige shows (see The CW vs HBO) or c. worse still, they weren’t made and intended for a certain demographic of straight, white men, part of whom are still likely mouthing off at The Last of Us adaptation.

While the show has its moments, they are buried in a production that feels like it was written and created by a machine. School Spirits has no soul or heart, and the tone is a mishmash of Degrassi and an equestrian show you’ve never heard of that your grandmother watches. It’s decent background noise, but it’s immediately forgettable.

School Spirits premieres March 9th with the first three episodes, exclusively on Paramount+.