'The Wilds' vs 'Yellowjackets': Comparing the Ensembles, the Mysteries, and More

A group of girls survive a plane crash, only to be stranded in the wilderness. What's the difference between 'The Wilds' and 'Yellowjackets'? Metacritic explains.
by Carita Rizzo — 

From left to right: 'The Wilds' and 'Yellowjackets'

Prime Video / Showtime

Warning: This story contains spoilers for Yellowjackets and The Wilds, streaming now. Read at your own risk!

The nail-biting television drama about a group of teenage girls who get stranded in the wilderness after a deadly plane crash finally returns to screens on May 6. "I know the one — it's where the soccer team lands in the forest, and they turn to ritualistic murder," you might be thinking.  

Actually, that show is Yellowjackets, which after its first season success and awards buzz is heading back into production this summer and will hopefully make a return to Showtime next winter. The series that is currently returning to its Lord of the Flies-meets-Lost dynamics is Amazon Prime Video's The Wilds, from creator Sarah Streicher and showrunner Amy B. Harris.

Based on premise alone, it would be more than fair to mix the two up. That is why Metacritic has compiled a comprehensive guide to both shows, the similarities of the series and how they diverge.   

The Setup: 

In Yellowjackets, a New Jersey high school soccer team and its coaches board a private plane to the national championships in Seattle, but somewhere over Canada the plane crashes into the wilderness, leaving them stranded and wounded. While the resourceful group manages to find food and shelter, viewers already knows from the opening scene of the pilot episode that they will eventually resort to hunting their own, then engaging in cannibalism. Remember the film Alive, starring Ethan Hawke, where a real-life Uruguayan rugby team crash landed in the Andes mountains and they were forced to eat the casualties to survive? That is not what is happening on Yellowjackets. The series implies something far more insidious (and possibly mystical) from the get-go.    

The Wilds also begins with a plane crash. Nine teenage girls, who think they are on their way to a young women's empowerment retreat in Hawaii, miraculously survive a rough landing into the Pacific Ocean and find themselves stranded on a desert island. Aside from their efforts to become one with the land and the fact that new relationship dynamics form among the group, that is where the similarities mostly end with Yellowjackets. Through trial and a lot of error, the girls each find their own strength and skillset in the quest to survive the elements, forming bonds that come as a surprise both to the characters and those watching them. And someone is indeed watching them. 

The Players: 

The first season of Yellowjackets focuses on good girl Shauna (Melanie Lynskey as adult Shauna and Sophie Nelisse as her teenage version), assertive Taissa (Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown), rebel Natalie (Juliette Lewis and Sophie Thatcher) and outcast Misty (Christina Ricci and Sammi Hanratty), who after making it to middle age find themselves blackmailed by someone privy to the secrets of their past.  

Even without the ominous postcards containing a ritualistic symbol from the forest, the main characters are dealing with stress. Shauna's marriage to high school sweetheart Jack Depew (Warren Kole) is on the fritz, and, suspecting him of having an affair, she embarks on one with local artist Adam (Peter Gadiot). Taissa's run for state senate means constantly being probed about her past, which triggers more than just bad memories. Natalie is not so much managing her addiction as she us constantly vacillating between sobriety and self-destruction. Misty, the geeky team equipment manager who in the wilderness felt like a valued member of the group, has returned to a life of invisibility, and is not happy about it.  

Parallel to the present-day story is their 19-month stint in the woods that is building up to a terrifying climax that may or may not explain what happened in the opening scene, or to team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell), and their other friends.  

The Wilds explores how girls from radically different social and geographical backgrounds come together to form a more-or-less cohesive collective. Rich and pampered Fatin Jadmani (Sophia Ali), who at home rebels against her strict upbringing and the discipline being a star cellist requires, turns her self-interest into a surprising asset for all. Dot Campbell (Shannon Berry), who spent her life taking care of a dying parent, is the group's practical leader thanks to hours of survivalist television she has consumed with her father. Kind animal-lover Martha Blackburn (Jenna Clause) surprises even herself when it is time to step up and nourish the group. Competitive diver Rachel Reid (Reign Edwards) falls back on her natural ability in the water to aid them, while her sister Nora Reid (Helena Howard) relies increasingly on her book smarts, due to lack of physical strength. Texan pageant queen Shelby Goodkind (Mia Healey) rallies the troops and ferocious Toni Shalifoe (Erana James) gets her hands dirty where needed. But it is the character that opens and closes the first season, the obsessively stubborn and suspicious Leah Rilke (Sarah Pidgeon), who becomes the group's unlikely leader.    

Unknowingly, they all play into the hand of researcher Dr. Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths), whose grand master plan it is to observe the group from a distance to determine how these young women buck stereotypes and work together to form a matriarchal society. 

Season 2 of The Wilds adds a new male cast for the parallel storyline examining how teenage boys fare in Gretchen's experiment, and the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly is, not well.

This group consists of Rafael Garcia (Zack Calderon), a nice Tijuana-born teen previously living in San Diego who becomes more confident and assertive on the island, but also more violent. Gloomy Henry Tanaka (Aidan Laprete) is convinced — long before the island crash — that life is pointless, but on the island he has to contend with the actions of his stepbrother Seth Novak (Alex Fitzalan), who quickly gains the respect of the boys but then loses it when he sexually assaults one of them. Ivan Taylor (Miles Gutierrez-Riley) is an aspiring playwright responsible for canceling high school jock Kirin O'Conner (Charles Alexander) back home. There's also geeky hypochondriac Josh Herbert (Nicholas Coombe) who becomes the target of Seth's violence, ambitious entrepreneur Scotty Simms (Reed Shannon) and his soft-spoken friend Bo (Tanner Rook) whose acts of vandalism should have sent them to juvie, but instead they were put on a plane. Because, like with the girls, Gretchen is using the island experiment as an attempt at rehabilitation.

The Mystery: 

From the opening scene, Yellowjackets presents the viewer with dark questions. What actually happened in the wilderness? Are there supernatural forces at play in the woods? Which team members survived their time away from civilization and who became dinner for the collective? And, as we jump 25 years into the future, who is the person now threatening to expose the truth about what the soccer team did to each other? Was one of survivors murdered, or did he die by suicide? The first season only answers some of these questions, while also opening the door to a larger mystery about that symbol on the blackmailer's notes and its ties back to the area in which the girls were stranded.

The Wilds tells its story in a non-linear fashion, but instead of jumping 25 years into the future as Yellowjackets does, it follows these test subjects in their pre-island times, while they are on the island, and when they have been rescued and are being interrogated by Gretchen's team to find out nuances of what went on out there.

Also, unlike on Yellowjackets, the plane crash on The Wilds was no fluke: it was all part of Gretchen's social experiment to test the will to survive and build a community, with the girls being only one piece of the puzzle. And that is really where the questions start to arise, namely, does Gretchen really believe this kind of trauma can be therapeutic, or she a psychopath? What happened to Nora? Who blew up Leah's pre-island relationship? Is Gretchen's son the wild card who will expose everything? And, at the end of the second season, where are these kids now, just how culpable are their parents in their island imprisonment, and do the kids actually have an upper hand since they are onto Gretchen while she is flying by the seat of her pants and has left some unstable operatives in the situation?

The Target Audience: 

While thematically similar, the two series veer in directions that may appeal to different audiences. Yellowjackets, for all its buildup to cannibalism, is as much about gathering clues for the overarching present-day mystery as it is a high-stakes survival drama not for the squeamish. The Wilds, which is billed as a YA-series, is a deep exploration of the pressures teenage girls face and offers insight into the female psyche — mixed with some serious and deadly survival challenges, of course. The discomfort of The Wilds might not that of blood and guts as pops up on Yellowjackets, but both shows make you feel like you took a poker to your insides.

Where to watch Yellowjackets:

, fuboTV, Google Play, iTunes, Showtime,

Where to watch The Wilds:

, Google PlayiTunes,