By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Violent stunts, gripping twists in book-based teen thriller.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
This series dramatizes systemic poverty and shows how young people who feel they don't have options might be pushed to desperate acts. Though good deeds are not totally absent, positive messages are subverted by glossy bad choices. Bullying is central to the plot, though bullies are also given emotional depth.
Positive Role Models
Heather is a relatable character, who works and saves to give herself a better future yet is sabotaged by her loved ones and other reversals. Parents are generally little-seen on this show, and many are not supportive (though Heather's mom is humanized). Many characters are somewhat stereotypical, and plot is emphasized over character.
Violence & Scariness
Violence is particularly concerning because the show makes its stunts look appealing as well as terrifying, particularly in an extended sequence in which teens jump off high rock cliffs. We also see a girl buried alive in a coffin, a boy running from a fierce dog, a girl screaming as a beehive is broken open and she's covered in bees. One character in particular bullies others; scenes in which he wrenches another character's arm and calls him a "f--ker" are frequent.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Expect crushes, flirtation, kissing, romantic complications. Jokes can veer towards the sexual: when asked his name, Ray shouts that "Your mom screams it every night."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Cursing and language includes "f--king," "f--k," "bitch," "hell," "s--t," "ass," "damn."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens and adult characters smoke cigarettes and drink. There are routinely large gatherings of teens with seemingly everyone drinking, usually beer, and characters get sloppy and menacing after drinking. A group of teens sits in a circle smoking while one rolls a joint (marijuana is not legal in Texas, where this show is set).
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Panic is a series about teens in a small Texas town who play a deadly annual game. It consists of escalating physical challenges that are quite literally deadly: two students died last summer walking across a highway with blindfolds on. Violence is not particularly gory, but it's presented dramatically, glamorizing the physical challenges with scenes that make stunts such as diving from very high points look beautiful and surreal. If you watch with younger teens, consider talking about the real-life consequences of such actions (though the show begins with a warning not to try what you see). We do see visuals such as a young women being buried alive in a coffin, and a girl screaming as she's covered in bees from a broken-open hive. Bullying is frequent, and sometimes physical, with a character who shoves, belittles, and hurts others physically. Frequent scenes show teens at parties drinking; some get reckless and sloppy when they do. Both teens and adults smoke cigarettes, and teens roll a joint at a get-together. Parents and adults are generally absent from the drama, and ineffective or actually harmful when they do appear. Expect romantic complications, kissing, and sexual humor, as well as cursing and language: "f--k," "bitch," "hell," "s--t," "ass," "damn." The show's main character is a relatable teen who's stuck in a cycle of systemic poverty, yet her choices are often reckless and dangerous. The series has been adapted by Lauren Oliver from her own YA novel of the same name.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Based on 4 parent reviews
Report this review
Report this review
What's the Story?
Each year, tiny Carp, Texas is enlivened when the town's graduating seniors play PANIC, a game of escalating challenges that nets one lucky winner a five-figure pot, but last year got a couple of students killed when they walked across the highway with blindfolds on. Heather (Olivia Welch) didn't plan on playing, but after a sudden reversal leaves her feeling like this year's $50,000 prize may be her only chance, she shocks her best friends Bishop (Camron Jones) and Natalie (Jessica Sula) by throwing her hat into the ring, taking on competitors like mysterious new kid in town Dodge (Mike Faist) and bullying school tool Ray (Ray Hall), as well as Natalie herself. The town's police force, worried about more violence, are racing to keep the game from happening at all, but with things moving so fast, it's anyone's guess who will win out -- or survive. The series has been adapted by Lauren Oliver from her own YA novel of the same name.
Is It Any Good?
It has a seamy "sin and scandal in a small town" vibe that's not unlike Riverdale, but Olivia Welch breathes such life and pathos into main character Heather that this series transcends cliches. Of course, the show's setup is pure high-concept YA (literally), and you'll have to take a couple of grains of salt to accept that the teens of tiny Carp, Texas have been secretly running a high-stakes game of truth-or-dare for generations. Many of the characters are walking stereotypes, too: the swaggering bully who taunts other students into participating in Panic, Heather's geeky BFF who's transparently in love with her, the new guy at school with secrets.
Even Heather herself is something of a type, the good girl attempting to break the cycle of small-town poverty yet fighting insurmountable odds. But with Welch in the role, Heather is easy to root for, transparently transmitting pain and badassery in turn. We feel her pain when the path to a college degree is blocked; we understand all the factors that lead up to her feeling like she has nothing to lose by playing her town's challenge game. And so, as goofy as Panic's setup is, viewers will be drawn in despite themselves, eager to see how this young woman gets herself out of the mess she's in, and how the rest of Carp's secrets will be revealed. For easygoing summer pleasures, you most assuredly could do worse.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about bullying. What instances of bullying exist in Panic? What different forms can bullying take? Is any one form more or less harmful than another? How do the characters in Panic egg each other on to greater violence and more daring stunts? What reasons does the show give us for the acts of bullying that take place?
The teens on this show compete for a cash prize by performing stunts that escalate in danger. Does watching the stunts make you want to try something like this? The show begins with a warning not to imitate its stunts; why? Does the warning work to dissuade you? What are the possible real-life consequences of challenges like jumping from a rock cliff into a quarry?
Teens: Do you think this series paints an accurate portrait of teen life? Are the characters' troubles relatable to you? Why or why not? What kinds of stereotypes does this show reinforce or challenge? How does what you see of teen life on TV or in movies influence your own life? Parents: Talk to teens about the role models and messages in shows like this.
- Premiere date: May 28, 2021
- Cast: Olivia Welch, Jessica Sula, Mike Faist
- Network: Amazon Prime Video
- Genre: Drama
- TV rating: TV-14
- Last updated: February 28, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Drama TV for Teens
Amazon Originals on Prime Video
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate