Amazon’s new thriller “Panic” follows teens in the small town of Carp, Texas, who undergo an unusual and dangerous series of challenges — competing for a jackpot $50,000 prize that could be their ticket out of their dead-end surroundings.
The series was created by Lauren Oliver and is based on her novel of the same name.
“I love ‘Friday Night Lights.’ I hate to reference other things, it sounds like I’m comparing myself to them which is rude, but ‘Friday Night Lights’ was a huge benchmark for us,” she said. “That was an interesting model in terms of a real evocation of a place and centering it around — in that case — a literal game. But it’s really about the people and relationships. So I’ve always held that up as like a gold standard of TV.
” ‘Panic’ is about the game, but it’s also about the characters.”
Premiering Friday (May 28), “Panic” centers around Heather Nill (Olivia Welch), who sees the “Fear Factor”-type game as her only option to get her family out of a dire financial hole. She’s competing against her friend Natalie Williams (Jessica Sula), enigmatic new guy Dodge Mason (Mike Faist) and wildcard Ray Hall (Ray Nicholson) — even as her friend Bishop Mason (Camron Jones) warns her not to engage in the game and the town’s law enforcement seeks to end the dangerous competition.
Oliver’s novel “Before I Fall” was adapted to the big screen in 2017, but “Panic” is her first time writing and creating a TV series.
“Since 2014, I’ve always been involved in or working on some iteration of it,” she said. “So, hopefully that’s kind of a message. We really love stories of overnight success in this country, but it’s 2021 and I originally sold the book rights for the film in 2014. Then there was a film adaptation that someone had done, and then it took several years and the studio wasn’t a fan of it….’Panic’ really to me had always belonged to TV. Because even when I was writing the book, I didn’t have space for all the things I wanted to explore.
“It was a long journey but I’m happy. I ended up at Amazon and they were making it a priority to open up their shows for younger people and different audiences. I can’t think of another studio that would put a TV show in the hands of a creator and a writer who had never had a single writing credit for TV or film.”
Unlike her characters, Oliver grew up in nearby Westchester County — a far cry from the show’s Texas setting.
“I started writing the book in Oregon, then I moved back to New York and was spending a lot of time upstate,” she said. “We filmed an original pilot in New York. ‘Panic ‘is shot a lot outside at night. And we got like four tornadoes, an ice storm … it was like we were cursed by a bad witch. So because of that, for production reasons we were going to move to Texas.
“Once we were moving it, I didn’t want to just pretend it was anywhere. It’s a town that’s very much like many of the towns in America that we just don’t see that often on TV,” she said. “I think the more specific you are, the more real something feels and ironically is more universal, somehow.”