Two households, both alike in utter indignity. We lay our scene in yet another loose Romeo & Juliet adaptation for horned-up youths of a different era. In the teen revolution of the late 1950s and early 1960s, that meant West Side Story, with its racial tensions and dueling street-toughs. There was the cool, aesthetic angst of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet for elder millennials, and Lion King II: Simba’s Pride for younger ones. And in 2022, Netflix created a series that catered to the kids of today, who I guess see themselves in overly sincere gay vampires raised on Tumblr porn and bad YA. It was called First Kill, and it was beautiful.
The show is a supernatural romance created by Victoria Schwab, a fantasy novelist with a prolific output of numerous book series with names like Monsters of Vanity and Shades of Magic. It’s based on one of her short stories, although it has the overall feel of one of those shows that was optioned off a Wattpad post. It follows Sarah Catherine Hook as goody-two-shoes Juliette and Imani Lewis as new girl Calliope, two high-schoolers with an instant, intense attraction to each other. But theirs is a forbidden love; not because they’re gay (both characters are out to their families and peers at the start of the series without friction or conflict), but because Juliette comes from a long line of legacy vampires and Cal comes from a line of monster hunters. Both of them have been preparing to make their titular first kill, and have chosen the other as a target, but instead of going in for the final blow … they end up making out a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like a good chunk of their time onscreen together is steamy hookups set to uncanny valley Netflix Bangers™️.
The fact that both of them have the power to kill the other makes their dynamic hew closer to Buffy and Spike than the metaphorical Mormon soaking technique of Bella and Edward (although there’s also plenty of chaste staring-into-each-other’s-eyes and hand-holding). In fact, as sort of a warning of cringe to come, the theme song features the spectacularly bad rhyme, “All of your friends, they’d try to kill us / but only because they’d be jealous / that our love is deeper than Edward and Bella’s.”
Gag! And also question-inducing. Wondering whether or not Twilight exists in this show’s universe is a perfect example of the best thing about this show: the world-building. All vampire stories introduce their own sets of vampire rules, and in First Kill, each layer of their world is stupider than the last. Juliette was born a vampire instead of made one, because she’s part of a long line of legacy vampires dating back to … the snake in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, their bloodline is matrilineal. Does this imply that Eve was a vampire? No. It means that the family literally gains its powers from worshipping an actual magic snake they keep in a trunk. This is a church I would happily attend. Juliette must live up to the expectations of her overbearing mother and godmother, who look like the villainous realtors in a Hallmark Christmas movie. In the world of First Kill, vampire immortality apparently manifests as visible Botox.
This is a show for people who enjoy watching fabulous women of a certain age in cheap blonde wigs swan around one of those stucco mansions where they film porn, purring expository gibberish like, “For a thousand years, our family has been the most powerful among Legacies. The only ones deemed worthy of guarding the Emerald Malkia, the queen mother serpent from which all Legacies draw strength.” To me, that’s a prose poem.
Meanwhile, Calliope’s family is part of an ancient guild full of silly codes and oaths delivered dead-seriously (I will say the actress who plays Cal’s mom, Aubin Wise, is pretty good and gets out of these scenes unscathed.) At one point midway through the series, the family stakes Juliette’s father, Sebastian and he can only be cured by the magical snake slithering into his open wound, giving him ancient snake-powers. The only thing more unhinged than this plot point is Sebastian’s jaw when he opens it to gobble his enemies whole, like a snake. Any of this would have the potential to be genuinely gnarly if it weren’t for the second-best thing about First Kill: the subpar special effects. Although this show has a supernatural element requiring constant computer-generated monsters and ghouls, the graphics look cheaper than something you’d find in a ’90s-era Disney Channel Original Movie. It’s sub-Halloweentown. Watching how cheap this series looks while knowing how much money Netflix has (this isn’t some pulpy direct-to-VHS knockoff studio) is a dissonant experience. But at a time when companies like Marvel are pushing VFX artists to the brink of despair with their demanding expectations, the KidPix shoddiness of First Kill’s graphics qualifies as labor solidarity.
First Kill’s final endearing, lobotomized trait is the way it tries to make its monsters a ~metaphor~ for ~issues~. In the show, the town’s police do random stops and car searches to suss out monsters. There is a MAGA-style group of anti-monster activists raising a fuss about the threat of monsters against their children. They’re led by one character’s mom, who says things about monsters like, “They’re back. The lamestream media just won’t cover it.” The place where this metaphor falls apart is that, unlike the oppressed groups First Kill is alluding to … the monsters actually do kill and terrorize people all the time. The show’s clumsy messaging is accidentally ass-backwards.
With all these elements going on at once, season one of First Kill ended on multiple cliffhangers: Juliette and Calliope are heartbroken and once again sworn enemies. Juliette’s sister is in jail for murdering half the town. And her secret long-lost twin, who is in love with an evil witch, is assembling an army of werewolves and ghoulies that look cheaper than a groundskeeper’s costume on Scooby Doo. Now we’ll never know what cheap, horned-up action Season Two would have wrought.
All of this — the horniness, the silly dialogue, the cheap graphics, the failed attempts to conjure meaning — conspired to make First Kill a strange little camp object. Watching it felt like sticking my brain in an air fryer, and that’s exactly what I wanted it to do. It took Riverdale a few seasons to get to a place this bonkers; First Kill managed it in eight episodes. Now that Netflix slayed the series too soon, Madelaine Petsch alone must bear the weight of gay-girl supernatural deep-lore trash TV. Emerald Malkia help us all.