Netflix has recently put out a string of good teen series, many of which are produced in Australia. One thing they have in common are a lot of action sequences, that show the country’s stunning scenery. Surviving Summer might be one of the better series of this genre, and the stunning scenes of coastal Australia is only one of the reasons why it’s so good.
Opening Shot: A teen with scars on his back gets his surfboard and bikes down to the beach near his house.
The Gist: As we see Ari Gibson (Kai Lewins) surf, we see his cousin, Summer Torres (Sky Katz) is in Brooklyn, skateboarding with her friends. After she’s caught skating at a local pool, her skateboard aflame as part of the stunt, Summer and her mother Margot (Kate Beahan) are in therapy, and Margot has to figure out where to send her daughter while she’s on a photo assignment in the Middle East. She gets in touch with her sister Abbie (Adrienne Pickering), whom she hasn’t spoken to in a decade, since she moved away from Australia.
While Summer objects to being shipped to the other side of the world, she is shown arriving to a warm greeting from Abbie, her uncle Thommo (Dustin Clare) and younger cousin Honey (Asmara Feik). Ari is at his first competition since he was injured a year earlier in an accident where he almost died. He’s getting panic attacks, especially when he’s around his friend and main rival Marlon Souza (Joao Marinho). Marlon also happens to be dating Bodhi Mercer (Savannah La Rain), on whom Ari has a massive crush.
Summer is determined to blow the tiny town of Shorehaven and go back to New York the next day, but watches as Ari qualifies for the finals the next day after being tentative earlier in the heat. But Bodhi invites Summer and Ari to a party she and her buddy Poppy Tetanui (Lilliana Bowrey) are throwing. There, Summer is a hit, but Ari is a wallflower, jealous that Bodhi is with Marlon.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? It seems that teen-focused kids’ shows from Australia are a thing for Netflix lately. Surviving Summer definitely has a similar vibe to Dive Club. But it also feels a lot like MaveriX, even though one is about surfing, and the other is about motocross.
Our Take: Created by Josh Mapleston and Joanna Werner, Surviving Summer is like the other shows we mentioned above; it does a good job of setting up its main characters while not talking down to its core audience. It’s a teen-oriented show that has a real story and real characters, as well as lots of great scenery of the Australian coast.
In this series, Katz is the attraction. A veteran of kids’ TV — she was a regular on Raven’s Home — she manages to make Summer someone who isn’t just a bratty teenager. Summer has a rough relationship with her mother, whom has kept things from her over the years which would perhaps explain why they had to leave Australia when Summer was 4. But she also plays Summer with lots of New York attitude, where she thinks it’s the center of the universe and nowhere else could possibly be home.
We appreciate that the premise of the show is set up relatively slowly. The first two episodes establish why Poppy is there, why she stays in Shorehaven and what the basic relationships are. She already as a love-hate with the flinty Poppy, seems to connect with Marlon, and finds a rival from a competing surf crew. We also get an idea why Ari’s friendship with Marlon has become so contentious, and it’s not about Bodhi.
But they’re not all together as a crew yet; that notion is introduced near the end of the second episode. Taking the time to set up all the relationships, though, will help us get into the dynamics among the members of the surf crew when the team is formed. That’s something that’s rare in a show like this, and we really appreciated that approach.
What Age Group Is This For?: The show is rated TV-PG due to what Netflix says is scenes of “fear”, and there’s some “crap”-level swearing, but we think kds 7 and up will enjoy the show.
Parting Shot: Summer walks along a mountainside road, looking at the beach. Somehow, she’s determined to hitch her way to the airport to go home. Then we see “TO BE CONTINUED.”
Sleeper Star: Savannah La Rain is supposed to be this show’s warmth and heart as Bodhi, and she projects that from the first moments we see her. She also appreciates her friendship with Ari, even though she has no idea how he really feels about her.
Most Pilot-y Line: When she encounters Ari, and has no idea who she is, she says “I’ve been consigned here like an old-timey British convict.” Seems like a sophisticated line, even for a smart obnoxious teen like Summer. At least she’s learned her Australian history.
Our Call: STREAM IT. With characters that have a little bit of depth and some stunning scenery, Surviving Summer is a fun watch for both kids and adults.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.