Okay, one thing about me that you have to know is that I devour teen or young adult shows. There is nothing like messy teens to keep you glued to the screen. It’s the reason why I still worship at the altar of Gossip Girl, and why I keep returning that big ole mess, Riverdale. So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that Netflix was making a South African teen drama series, set in a fancy Cape Town high school. I’m just telling you, Blood & Water is very much my shit.
Basically, it’s the story of Puleng Khumalo, who transfers to a prestigious Cape Town high school to solve the case of her older sister who was abducted at birth. 17-years-ago.
Imagine Veronica Mars dipping into Gossip Girl but with a UCT backdrop, that’s the energy that Blood & Water has. Produced by the same company that did Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story, Nommer 37, and Noem My Skollie, the projects thus far have been top quality so I expected good things.
Here’s what I thought:
The season is only six episodes long so it’s easy to watch it all at once and get lost in that Netflix haze, that they do so well. I’m not saying that I didn’t catch myself trying to spot Cape Town landmarks (I mean, Table Mountain is right there!?) but it didn’t distract me from the main story.
For avid South African news readers, it’s easy to see the parallels to some school scandals that dominated the media over the last couple of years.
The main storyline has resemblances to the story of Zephany Nurse, a baby that was abducted from Groote Schuur, a hospital in Cape Town when she was three days old. She was discovered when she was 17 years old when she befriended a younger girl at school who ended up being her sister. The real Zephany Nurse responded to the series by saying she wasn’t contacted by or consulted the production company, but she does see the similarities behind the series and her own life.
While I found the story to be compelling, I think that the number of episodes did it a disservice. It was obvious that they were trying to set up for season 2 and to keep the audience entertained. But they left too many threads untied by the end of the final episode. What was Fikile’s reaction? Was Puleng’s father involved in the abduction? How will Puleng’s parents react? It seemed as if it ended right on the most climactic part of the season.
What Blood & Water does well is that it weaves the real-world narrative with the very ‘high school-ness’ of it all (and why most of us are watching TBH). There are raucous parties, illicit affairs, love triangles, school election drama, and of course, plenty of visits to the principal’s office.
And for the most part, it is written well, it’s witty and entertaining. But I do miss the type of humour and banter that we would often see in shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C. There was some teasing between the ‘popular’ kids but it didn’t feel authentic. I mean, South African teenagers have their own slang, inside jokes, references to TikTok and YouTube videos. This was done so well in the US Netflix series Never Have I Ever, and even though Blood & Water is a drama series, I think that it could have incorporated more of this.
It feels almost unbelievable to see a South African big-budget production with diverse characters. The series was written and directed by Nosipho Dumisa, Travis Taute and Daryne Joshua. The team, from Gambit Films, truly did an amazing job to illustrate not only this world that they had created but also helping to ground it what we know.
Ama Qamata, who plays the lead role of Puleng, was the breakout star of the series. Ama previously starred in Muvhango and Rhythm City. She stole the show and captivated the audience with her performance. Most of the other performances were good, but none stood out to me as much as Ama’s.
So, should you watch it?
Here’s the thing, Blood & Water was not a perfect show and I’m not going to pretend it was. However, it was well done – the production, the acting, the writing. I wanted to know more, I want to tune in next season. If you are a fan of teen, mysteries, or crime dramas, it is worth checking out. It is only Netflix’s second South African original series, so there is still a lot to learn. But honestly, I think this was a good attempt, I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
You can watch Blood & Water on Netflix here
Read what I’ve been watching on Showmax here