tv review

In Trinkets, Teen Shoplifters Form an Alliance

Photo: Allyson Riggs/Netflix

In the last episode of the first season of Trinkets, protagonist Elodie stands on a misty bridge looking out over a river. She is about to make a monumental decision, something that will cause a lot of parental strife in her teen life, something that her two best friends, Moe and Tabitha, are both excited and anxious about. Elodie looks out over the river and gathers her resolve to shake up the status quo. It’s time, she says, because “something about all this feels a little fated.”

Elodie is describing her life in Portland, Oregon, but she could just as easily be describing Trinkets, a new Netflix series adapted from the YA novel of the same name by Kirsten Smith. Elodie (Brianna Hildebrand), Moe (Kiana Madeira), and Tabitha (Quintessa Swindell) are teen girls who find one another at a Shoplifters Anonymous meeting. Elodie is a queer introvert who’s just moved to town, Moe is a punk-styled Faith-from-Buffy type, and Tabitha is the wealthy girl with the popular boyfriend; together, they gradually move from wary enemies to allies to friends. They are bonded by their mutual secret shoplifting habit and their shared sense of being outsiders. They are also bonded by their treatment on Trinkets, a show that explores the highs and lows of their lives — some of which, on paper, seem very high or very low — but that never quite manages to reflect the intensity of those experiences onscreen. When Elodie describes her life as “fated,” I confess I originally heard that line as “a little faded,” and within the feel of the series, it made a lot of sense.

Each of the girls deals with significant traumas or challenges. None of them compulsively shoplift because they’re just bored, and Trinkets does not gloss over any of their frustrations or grief. Elodie, for instance, is mourning the loss of her mother, who died in a car accident not so long before the show begins. Moe’s father is MIA. Tabitha’s parents are in an unhappy marriage, and her boyfriend, Brady, a classic emotional abuser who’s gathering steam toward a turn to physical violence. The girls shoplift to distract themselves and to mess with the surface appearance that everything is always all right. They’re trying to keep up the sense that everything’s always fine, while underneath, they’re rebelling.

The problem is that Trinkets can’t seem to stay focused on the particular psychologies or practicalities of a group of teen shoplifters, nor does it maintain a consistent sense of what stories matter, how much they matter, or how strongly anyone feels about anything at any given time. In isolated pieces, it can be extremely affecting. For a short sequence near the middle of the season, it looks as though Elodie, Moe, and Tabitha are on their way toward being haunted by a life-shattering secret after they take revenge on Tabitha’s terrible boyfriend. But then, the mechanics of that story just … disappear for a while. When the plot does pop up again later, everyone is oddly chill about it. Or maybe not chill — it still moves the story, and it still feels like a threat to the central trio — but their emotional reactions are strangely muted. It earns the same level of response as many other of their lesser worries.

The individual events of Trinkets roll forward without much concern for how they’ll all be integrated into an overall narrative structure, and obstacles tend to arise without much concern for the aftermath. Elodie spends a while avoiding and worrying about giving a deposition regarding her mother’s car crash, but once it happens, we see almost none of it and then the story goes away entirely. Moe has an almost run-in with her dad, a plot that balloons into prominence and then deflates instantly. In a minor vein, there’s a later episode where Moe’s crush, Noah, hurts his arm while skateboarding and gets very worried about how it will affect his chances of getting a soccer scholarship. Noah’s soccer career and his desire to get into college hardly ever comes up before that point, and after it happens, the saga of Noah and his wounded arm never shows up again. By the next episode, his arm appears to be completely recovered. Did he play in the championship game? Was a scout there? How did it go? There’s no way to know!

As a story about three high-school girls who become unlikely friends, who are allies in a way that’s both supportive and a little destructive, Trinkets is a solid teen show. It’s not as propulsive or overwrought as a post-apocalypse show like The Society, or as delightfully direct and humane as
Sex Education, or as melodramatic and aesthetically painstaking as the fantasy series The Innocents. It is more measured and more sedate, and it lacks the introspective specificity that might’ve catapulted it into something with breakout appeal.

And yet there’s something comfortable about the relatively small range of emotion in Trinkets, something nice about how it rolls along smoothly from one thing to the next without worrying too much about keeping every plate spinning at the same time. Elodie, Moe, and Tabitha’s friendship is the most important thing; the fact that they’re able to stand on that bridge together with Elodie is what matters. If there are plot holes and inconsistencies and bits of missing connective tissue along the way, those elements feel like an inexpensive set of earrings stolen from a giant chain store and slipped into a pocket when no one was looking. In one way, they’re probably important, but at the same time, maybe no one will miss them.

An earlier version of this review referenced a misheard piece of dialogue. It has been updated to correct and acknowledge the error.

In Trinkets, Teen Shoplifters Form an Alliance