Take a young adult whodunnit ala Pretty Little Liars and add in ghosts, and you have School Spirits, the Paramount+ Original series made in production with Awesomeness Live-Action Studios, a studio dedicated to making media for Gen Z. Created by Nate Trinrud and Megan Trinrud, who also co-wrote the series premiere with Oliver Goldstick serving as showrunner School Spirits, is a genre-blending series that manages to both embrace a gimmick and not be overtaken by it.
School Spirits follows Maddie (Peyton List), a high schooler who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Oh, and she’s dead. Stuck in the afterlife and in her high school, Maddie has to investigate her own mysterious disappearance. Was it her boyfriend? A teacher? Someone else entirely? Maddie goes on a crime-solving journey as the spirits around her help her adjust to high school purgatory through an afterlife support group made up of all of those who died on the school premises. But the closer she gets to discovering the truth, the more secrets and lies she uncovers both in her disappearance and other spirits’ pasts.
School Spirits proves that Peyton List was wasted in the latter seasons of Cobra Kai. The depth, emotion, and humor she brings to Maddie are both refreshing and authentic. While the series rightfully has its moments of melodrama, it also has moments that tug at the viewer’s sympathies and makes Maddie’s untimely demise all the more crushing. Additionally, Nick Pugliese as Charley is another standout character and performance. By capturing the homophobia of the 90s and early aughts in a nutshell, he’s able to highlight the harm that can happen to someone in high school, more specifically, how it never leaves you. Despite being in his afterlife, his trauma shaped him, and his growth in the series is about becoming outside of that. Instead of just being a token plotline, Charley is dynamic and always manages to ground Maddie when she isn’t able to ground herself.
To that point, there isn’t a single spirit that doesn’t have depth or manage to highlight an issue often glossed over or purposefully ignored in high school. Using macabre realities to craft comedy works also manages to keep audiences engaged beyond one-liners or moral platitudes. And that’s what makes the series work, it always manages to find its center, its heart, even when it’s embracing the more absurd natures of the premise. The balance between comedy and the macabre of the afterlife tied together in the mystery with some great emotional twists makes School Spirits a special watch and one that never forgets its audience. That said, some moments of emotion are undercut by oddly paced joke choices and too much self-awareness. But those moments are spread throughout everything thinly enough that it doesn’t break the series’s overall quality too much.
School Spirits is a stellar YA thriller-comedy-whodunnit. While I don’t know exactly where to put it in terms of genre, it has a lot of heart that propels the story to be more than just a gimmick. With how good this series is, I’m excited that it’s also getting a graphic novel this Fall by Clarion Books/HarperAlley, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books.
School Spirits is streaming exclusively on Paramount+ March 9, 2023.
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
School Spirits is a stellar YA thriller-comedy-whodunnit. While I don’t know exactly where to put it in terms of genre, it has a lot of heart that propels the story to be more than just a gimmick.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.