Judging solely from the number of bare butts in the first five minutes of “The Deleted,” one might think Bret Easton Ellis assumes there is a direct correlation between cheeks out and thumbs up. Adding the intrigue of a nefarious organization chasing down and drugging the randy would-be models in hiding, and “The Deleted” exploits just about every Hollywood trope imaginable. It’s clickbait storytelling — told with classic Ellis flair.
“The Deleted” is the latest and buzziest original series from Fullscreen, the subscription service that launched this year from Fullscreen Media, a multi-channel network (MCN, for short) which manages top YouTube channels. So far, most of Fullscreen’s original programming has leaned heavily on the YouTube talent at their disposal, with projects from Grace Helbig, Shane Dawson, and Jack & Dean. With Ellis at the helm of “The Deleted,” Fullscreen has significantly raised the bar for digital studios to attract higher-profile talent.
Ellis, for better or worse, cleverly exploits the lack of ratings system for online content to give Fullscreen’s mostly teen audience what they want: Sex, drugs, and a mysterious government experiment to create super-attractive humans or an actual sex cult (we’re not sure which, we’ve only seen the first four episodes.)
Not to harp on all the sex, but as the characters in “The Deleted” lounge semi-nude in drug-addled hazes, each toned actor’s cheekbones higher than than the last one’s, it’s tough not to read the series as a comment on our culture’s obsession with sex. Between their carnal escapades, with an equitable showing of groups and same-sex pairings, the characters collude about hiding from “The Institute,” which seems to have some part in their animalistic need for sex. That their primary tactic in evading this mysterious evil is to not text each other should give you a sense of how well that goes for them.
With plenty of titillation and intrigue to help, the fourteen-minute episodes fly by briskly, each one ending with another clue to unravelling the plot. Ellis keeps the camera in motion nearly throughout (he’s apparently been boning up on his Terrence Malick), zooming in slowly to a close-up that never lingers for too long, or with over-the-shoulder shots that urgently follow a character, leaving the sense that one is hot on the heels of this suspense, always one step behind the over-sexed gods and goddesses onscreen.
The narrative picks up steam with the development of a character named Breeda, a wholly terrifying femme fatale for the 21st century, played by Vine star and former Playboy model Amanda Cerny. Unlike the others, who try and fail to curb their sexual appetites, Breeda denies herself nothing. And beware anyone who may fall into her clutches. In the opening scene of the series, she stares both dead-eyed and doe-eyed at a frisky young couple and asks: “Can I join?” The camera cuts, answering her question.
About the names — Breeda is by far the weirdest, but not by much. If their perfect bone structures and pectoral muscles weren’t enough to make the characters indistinguishable, don’t expect their names to help. The character roster seems torn straight from the pages of a rejected “Saturday Night Live” sketch about Yale’s Skull and Bones secret society: Ryder yells at Agatha for texting Garrett because Logan said so, and no one has heard from Mason since Parker found him. By the way — they all look like Zac Efron.
Visually, “The Deleted” looks as good as anything on premium cable. Ellis’s literary aesthetic extends to a natural ease with framing, lighting, and pacing. The beauty onscreen is almost comically perfect, but it serves the story to create a heightened reality where shirts come off with a single look and muscular men sneak off to cut themselves on their morning jogs (something to do with the drugs).
If Ellis is looking to redeem himself from the comically disastrous Lindsay Lohan vehicle (if said vehicle was reversing downhill) “The Canyons,” he will have to hope the Fullscreen audience is so starved for quality content that they overlook the light plot of “The Deleted” in favor of its more prurient pleasures. His gamble may pan out, seeing as the burgeoning digital studio is even younger than its audience. Discerning teens and remaining Ellis loyalists will likely watch “The Deleted” with a mixture of bewilderment and reluctant titillation, giving new meaning to the term “guilty pleasure.”
Check out “The Deleted” on Fullscreen.