Young Adult vampire romances pretty much define my adolescence. It’s the archetype that keeps on giving; thankfully, it’s coming back, and this time it’s queer. First Kill is a Netflix Original YA series that embraces the supernatural, horror, and, well, Shakespeare. First Kill is created and written by V.E. Schwab (writer of the Shades of Magic series), with Felicia D. Henderson serving as showrunner. It stars Imani Lewis, Sarah Catherine Hook, Elizabeth Mitchell, Will Swenson, Aubion Wise, Jason Robert Moore, Gracie Dzienny, Dylan McNamara, Dominic Goodman, Phillip Mullings Jr., MK xyz, Jonas Dylan Allen, and Roberto Mendez.
First Kill focuses on two teen girls, Juliette Fairmont (Srah Catherine Hook) and Calliope—Cal—Burns (Imani Lewis), who meet and are pulled towards each other. Juliette is a Legacy vampire, a born vampire from the bloodline that connects to Lillith herself. Living her life as an ordinary girl is hard, largely due to her refusal to embrace the violence that comes with the thirst for blood. A member of a powerful Legacy family, it’s time for her to make her first kill and cement her standing, coming out to the vampire world. But Juliette is more interested in romance, so when she meets Cal, all of her senses become heightened, and the world drops out.
But Cal isn’t a normal human, no. While Juliette comes from a powerful vampire family, Cal comes from a long line of Hunters. Celebrated slayers, her family has set their sights on Savannah, Georgia, to help cull the rise of monsters in the area. Smart and strong, Cal is the opposite of Juliette. She knows where she fits in the world, who she is, and the legacy that she is living in. Surrounded by a family that cares as much as it fights, Cal has every reason to stay with “her side.” Yet, like all starcrossed stories, she starts to let her heart guide her.
The eight-episode series riffs on Romeo and Juliet, using iconic lines from the play as narrative devices for our leads and injects it with the angst, bad decisions, and absurdity from Twilight and Buffy, with a sprinkle of elements that Vampire Diaries fans will notice as well. That is to say, it uses a steady foundation of vampire teen romance and adds its own lore to the mix to craft something that isn’t always coherent but is always entertaining.
Embracing all the tropes you know and love (and sometimes hate), First Kill is everything you expect it to be. The dialogue is corny more often than it isn’t, and the action is mostly tongue-in-cheek. That said, in the last few episodes, the series manages to get emotional moments right and pull together the self-referential use of Romeo and Juliet in a way that has a lasting impact instead of just winking at the audience.
First Kill suffers from what many YA supernatural series suffer from—pacing. By establishing a world of monsters, rules, histories, and more, the series has to pack in a lot of exposition. While it makes the choices to show and not tell some smaller elements like biting, blood-drinking, and effects of both, the series also tries to establish long histories of monsters that weigh down emotional moments. Unsure of when to explain and when to let the drama play out fast, there is inconsistent pacing that can get distracting sometimes. This also leads to fairly substantial plot holes that don’t feel like ethereal mysteries but oversights instead.
But the strongest element that First Kill has going for it is its focus on family. One of the tropes I can’t get behind now at 30 that I could when I was in my teens is how easy it is for star-crossed lovers to forsake their family to choose someone who has actively hurt them. Thankfully, this is one trope only hinted at and then bucked. There is something important about a young romance, no matter how supernatural, that embraces family. While a toxic family is on display with one of our young girls, a healthy one is also there. The fact that romantic love isn’t held as higher than familial love by the end of the season crafts a dynamic that looks to find a way out without betrayal. Additionally, the best part of the series is the Burns family, primarily Cal, Talia, and Theo. Between these three, we see connections and care that build a believable and loving core to the series.
Look, some shows just thrive on vibes even when the dialogue is not great, and the storytelling is confusing. And that’s First Kill. It pulls together all the moody YA vampire trash we have loved deeply and distills it into a queer star-crossed romance that is enjoyable to watch, even if it doesn’t always make sense. It embraces the tropes of the genre while building on them and adding new elements like a caring, not-broken family that chooses to pursue forbidden love. While a lot doesn’t technically work, including some really weird effects, First Kill is a kind of YA comfort food that hits the right spot. It has angst, a dynamic romance, family drama, a bunch of vampire lore, and a heart that shines beyond any technical failings. With the last episode leaving the possibility for a Season 2, I’m here for it.
First Kill is available exclusively on Netflix now.
While there is a lot that doesn’t technically work, including some really weird effects, First Kill is a kind of YA comfort food that hits the right spot. It has angst, it has a dynamic romance, it has family drama, a bunch of vampire lore, and it has a heart to it that shine beyond any technical failings. With the last episode leaving the possibility for a Season 2, I’m here for it.