Running out of binging options? The Netflix original series Blood & Water has got you covered with an entertaining blend of mystery, teen drama and outrageous scandals. The only problem is its abbreviated length meaning for hardcore bingers, the South African series won’t last beyond a night.
It’s been 17 years since her newborn sister was kidnapped, but the loss still weighs heavy on Puleng (Ama Qamata) and her family. The loss is heaviest on Puleng’s mother, (Gail Mabalane), who still holds birthday parties in her honor hoping for her safe return. Thandeka has even set aside a room in the house filled with all the relevant information in the kidnapping case.
Puleng is tired of being lost in the shadow of a sister she never knew. Ready to let off some steam, Puleng and her BFF Zama (Cindy Mahlangu) head to a party thrown by students from a nearby well off private school. But there’s something about the birthday girl, Fikile (Khosi Ngema), that seems awfully familiar to Puleng.
Naturally, Puleng is convinced she’s found her long-lost sister and begins a complicated and borderline obsessive investigation to learn the truth. Befriending Fikile and her crew, KB (Thabang Molaba), Chris (Arno Greeff) and Reece (Greteli Fincham), Puleng sets out to solve this puzzle without upending the lives of everyone she encounters. Not surprisingly given that the show focuses on teens all those best intentions go out the window in no time.
There’s some stretches drastic that definitely make it highly unlikely that Fikile would welcome learning the potential truth of her childhood let alone being friends or even a relative to Puleng. The level of surprises and scandals is impressive even when they border on the absurd, but hey it’s a teen drama and it stayed safely nestled in reality the series might seem boring. That’s far from the case here.
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Puleng does just enough shady stuff that she doesn’t always warrant much sympathy either. She’s either naive or willfully using lovestruck nice guy Wade (Dillon Windvogel) to help in her quest since he’s got access to key information she couldn’t find on her own. Puleng also seems to think her best course of action is to keep her parents in the dark about her investigation. This is a weird move as her parents are just as motivated to learn the truth and would no doubt he helpful in opening doors Puleng could not.
For the most part the characters get enough development to make the moments when Puleng isn’t on her Nancy Drew mode engaging. The “cool crew” has a surprising amount of depth and aren’t just written as obnoxious spoiled privileged brats. One character is revealed as pansexual, which isn’t a big deal. What is impressive is the character isn’t written in a stereotypical way and is one of the more nuanced in the show.
Sex in general is explored less in a sensational way, but in an unafraid manner to offer a more realistic portrayal. In a lot of ways, Blood & Water feels like a more sophisticated take on Riverdale minus all the murders and street gangs.
At times the writing team goes out of their way to facilitate some forced drama. Characters ignore the obvious culprits behind issues in order to create more stress for Puleng. This occasionally gets a little silly especially when Puleng makes enough questionable decisions that she doesn’t need any help. Characters like magazine editor Wendy (Natasha Thahane) don’t get developed enough beyond the basic role of stuff-stirrer who rarely face any consequences for their actions.
Overall, the cast delivers impressive performances with newcomers Qamata and Ngema especially standing out. Director/writer Nosipho Dumisa has strong instincts in terms of setting up cliffhangers and establishing this seemingly ideal life of the privileged that comes crashing down piece by piece each episode. Each episode features some gorgeous lighting with mesmerizing colors that give the series a fresh and contemporary flair.
With only six episodes, the first season flies by and the cliffhanger is a killer considering with the worldwide pandemic there’s no firm timeline for when Season 2 will arrive. But this first installment is more than enough to get viewers sucked into this world of lies, deception and drama with plenty more in store for the next round.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix