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Surviving teenage girlhood takes on a whole new meaning on 'Yellowjackets'

In <em>Yellowjackets</em>, a New Jersey girls soccer team must survive in the wilderness after a plane crash.
Kailey Schwerman/Showtime
In Yellowjackets, a New Jersey girls soccer team must survive in the wilderness after a plane crash.

Updated December 31, 2021 at 10:54 AM ET

Teenage girlhood can be an intense experience – a time filled with ups and downs and hard lessons to be learned about yourself and your friends. The Showtime drama Yellowjackets takes those lessons to the extreme.

Yellowjackets tells the story of a girls soccer team from New Jersey whose plane crashes en route to a tournament, stranding the teens in the wilderness for months.

The story is told in two timelines – one in 1996, the time of the crash, and another in the present day, when we get to meet the girls, now women, as they continue to deal with the trauma of what happened to them in the woods. It's equal parts survival tale, unsettling psychological thriller and coming-of-age story that explores the way pieces of our past can continue to shape our present. The show was created by husband and wife writing team Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, who say they started with a simple premise: a sports team and a plane crash.

The duo spoke with NPR's Elissa Nadworny on Weekend All Things Considered. Excerpts below have been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the audio above.

Yellowjackets creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson.
/ Showtime
Yellowjackets creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson.

Elissa Nadworny: The show has been compared to the Lord Of The Flies and Alive, that real-life story in South America about members of a rugby team who survived a plane crash in the Andes. Were you inspired by those stories when you started to write?

Ashley Lyle: Absolutely. I think both of those were pretty formative for me. I very much remember watching a remake of Lord Of The Flies. I know that Balthazar Getty was in it because I had a crush on him at the time. I'm 100% dating myself.

[I have a] very similar story with Alive. My best friend, Alison, and I ... we were probably close to eighth grade at that point when Alive came out ... We had a 15-minute sort of study period every day, and we convinced [Mrs. Denny, our social studies teacher] to let us watch the movie Alive in 15-minute increments because we argued that it was educational.

Nadworny: What about the switch? Because those are all men. These are women and girls.

Lyle: It just occurred to us that, particularly when it comes to Lord Of The Flies, there's this sort of famous golden quote about how it would never happen with women. And it was clearly, in the quote, meant to be some sort of compliment to the female gender. But I take some issue with that ... It just occurred to us that it's a really fascinating question, insomuch as women are socialized, arguably, even more so than men in a very specific way.

And having grown up as a teenage girl in the '90s, you know, from my point of view, I was like, that will get very dark, but in a very different way, I think. And so it felt like a new story to be told.

Nadworny: Even at a very basic level, it begs the question of, how would you act in different situations? It's certainly made me think, would I eat my friends?

Bart Nickerson: I agree that to eat your friend is a big step. It's a big jump from our normal lives ... [But] it is a little hard for me to immediately understand ... Obviously, if you kill your friend, the moral problem there is very clear. [But] why, in a survival situation ... they've already expired, why we're so sort of avoidant of that – why it is such a taboo. Why is this such a line that is not to be crossed? And again, I think that most people can allow that you would have to make that jump ... But even still, it is like a, "Whoa, man, that's rough" kind of thing.

Nadworny: The show does have violence when the girls are stuck in the wilderness. But there's also violence back home. One best friend betrays another, a teammate injures her friend. Was it important for you to juxtapose the girls' more insidious high school mean girl behavior with outright violence that they commit later on?

Lyle: We wanted to not have a clear delineation – that the violence or the potential for violence inherent in all of us isn't necessarily something that necessitates such extreme circumstances to come out. You know, I think that there is a sort of violence that [is] just a natural part of growing up and navigating those years of your life, and it doesn't always come out in such extreme ways.

To some extent, what we wanted to explore as well with this show is the question: what are we all capable of? And I think the answer is that none of us really knows until the circumstances present themselves. I think that anybody who looks at the show and says "I would definitely not do that" is, to some extent, fooling themselves.

Nickerson: One of the things that we were trying to do is... [pair] the heightened and the violent with the more mundane and every day – trying to, to a certain extent, talk about to what extent that heightened and violent is the undercurrent and the shaper of kind of the mundane. The forces that propel one are, I think, present in the other. [They] obviously manifest very, very differently.

Nadworny: What were you hoping the audience would take away from the first season? Did you have an idea when you went into it?

Nickerson: It was kind of early on, I was talking to somebody who had read the script ... And they said ... you know, since I read your script, I've had these, like, really weird and vivid dreams. I think that one of our grand aspirations is just to get something cooking deep in the recesses of the audience's psyche – just to create this moving and engrossing experience that feels exciting and terrifying and really compelling.

Lyle: I think similarly, there's certainly a lot of answers that I or we could give about themes – you know, obviously friendship, female friendship, female anger and rage, trauma. There are all sorts of themes that we're exploring with the show. But in terms of a takeaway, my honest to God, number one hope is that people just enjoy watching it, that they're entertained and have fun. And that might be a strange thing to say about a show that is fairly dark. But what I hope people take away is that they just enjoy watching it, and it gives them a little bit of an escape from the sometimes slightly grim world that we're living in now.

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Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
Kira Wakeam