In Syfy’s new series Deadly Class, a teenager inadvertently smokes angel dust and imagines Ronald Reagan crawling out of a television screen, Samara-from-The-Ring-style; another teenager pummels a nerdy kid with a giant pink dildo, before that dildo is sliced in half with a katana; another character says, without a hint of irony, “Have a good weekend, future disruptors of America.” Deadly Class is a lot of things, none of which are remotely subtle.
In a perpetually crowded television landscape for original scripted series, Being the Absolute Most probably doesn’t hurt Deadly Class’ chances of standing out. If nothing else, the show’s provocative tone is in line with its source material, the graphic novel series of the same name written by Rick Remender, who is also the co-showrunner, writer, and producer for the small-screen adaptation. Remender’s series takes us to San Francisco in 1987—hence the brief image of Angel Dust Reagan—following homeless, orphaned teenager Marcus Lopez (played by Benjamin Wadsworth) as he’s invited to attend King’s Dominion, a boarding school that grooms the next generation of assassins, cartel leaders, and the like, led by the mysterious Master Lin (Benedict Wong).
It’s Hogwarts for hitmen, with classes like “AP Black Arts,” “Fundamentals of Psychopathy,” and “Poison Lab” in place of wizardry. It’s a fun starting point for the series, as Marcus meets classmates like the katana-wielding Saya (Lana Condor of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before fame)‚ the secret pacifist Willie (Luke Tennie), and the seductive Maria (María Gabriela de Faría) while trying to find his place in the school’s social hierarchy. Like any high school drama, there are cliques, though they’re classist in nature: Kids who are “legacies” coming from, say, the Yakuza or a cartel family have a higher social status over a “rat” like Marcus.
This informs the way Marcus views a lot of his peers, as well as the world: He’s justifiably angry about being orphaned for most of his life, and blames his parents’ deaths on Reagan-era policies that removed financial resources for mental health. When everyone in class is asked about their #HitmanLifeGoals, Marcus doesn’t hesitate: “I’m gonna assassinate Ronald Reagan.” It’s quite the statement, if only Marcus offered it with a hint of charisma—the biggest problem with Deadly Class is that he takes himself very seriously, and so does the show. His voiceover narration, which recurs throughout the first four episodes, offers the kind of vague anarchist speak that’d be right at home coming out of Elliot Alderson’s mouth on Mr. Robot, but Deadly Class doesn’t seem to realize how inherently absurd it is to see a teenager stand up in an assassin classroom and say he wants to kill the president when he graduates with a degree in hitmanship.
If Deadly Class aspires to be an edgy political satire, it still has a ways to go in sharpening its message—and in portraying its own characters. The students often come disconcertingly close to merely resembling stereotypes—the way Saya, of Japanese descent, frequently concerns herself with “honor,” or the way a blonde, Southern, prom queen-type is a neo-Nazi who sends class notes with swastikas emblazoned on them. Willie, a black kid, still hooks up with her and brushes it away by saying, “She’s a Nazi, Marcus, that ain’t girlfriend material.” (Like I said, this show is The Most at all times.)
The good news is Deadly Class does get one thing right: the action, and general assassin hijinks, generally slap. The fighting is not as balletic as the choreography of something like John Wick, but what Deadly Class lacks in technical proficiency it makes up for in creative weaponry. It feels like the kind of thing Guy Ritchie would delight in, if Guy Ritchie ever felt the need to direct television on Syfy.
So while Deadly Class does offer hints of Harry Potter and even X-Men, its platonic ideal on television might actually be AMC’s Preacher. Like Deadly Class, Preacher is a frequently unsubtle series with a knack for combining the grisly with the comical—reminder, Preacher has a secondary character nicknamed Arseface because, well, his face resembles an anus. Deadly Class even has someone analogous to Eugene, a villain called “Fuckface,” who is a former roommate of Marcus’s with a penchant for—this is not a joke—animal porn and bestiality. How you feel about this particular narrative turn—among its other intentionally provocative inclinations—should speak volumes about whether Deadly Class is right for you.
Should You Watch It? If you’re willing to accept talk of bestiality, cringey dialogue, and some stereotypes, this is a show that is definitely unlike most anything on TV. Fans of Preacher, in particular, might see Deadly Class as a passable diversion until Season 4 arrives.
What Is the Most Ridiculous Self-Serious Thing Marcus Says? Oh, man, get ready for this: “Morality is just comfort food, it holds no meaning outside of our minds. Like the Mona Lisa, something a lot of people imagine value in. Reading something into that idiot half-smile smear of paint—one big group hallucination.” [Rips bong, watches Fight Club for the 20th time] Heck yeah.
How Is Lana Condor? She’s convincingly badass as Saya, who might be hiding some of her true intentions at the school, as well as her feelings for Marcus and whether they’re legitimate—or an elaborate ruse. It’s certainly a far cry from Lara Jean Covey, what with her arm tattoos and general penchant for leather jackets (To All the Katanas I’ve Wielded Before?), but that’s part of the appeal.