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'Deadly Class' Has Potential
January 16, 2019  | By David Hinckley

As our unfortunate friend Preacher illustrates, the best graphic novels don’t always turn into the best TV shows. So it’s a pleasure to report that the new kid on this block could turn out to be a killer.

Deadly Class, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy, is a violent and menacing action drama based on Rick Remender’s graphic novel and adapted for TV, with a few variations and some streamlining, by Anthony and Joseph Russo.

It’s not science fiction, despite airing on Syfy, but let’s hope it’s at least plain old regular fiction, since it revolves around a secret academy called King’s Dominion where the students are trained to become assassins and killers.

None of those abstract liberal arts here. Just good, solid practical training in, say, the best poison to employ if you want your murder to make a statement.

Located in the San Francisco area, King’s Dominion is run by Master Lin (Benedict Wong), a martial arts-loving sociopath with a smooth rap about how vengeance is good and some people need to die.

Most of Master Lin’s students are the offspring of crime syndicate families, corrupt public officials and fanatic outlier groups like neo-Nazis. In a brilliant stroke from the novel carried over into the TV series, King’s Dominion has the exact same trappings as a reputable elite prep school. The students dress well. They pay attention in class. They seem to take pride in their work and compete with each other to do well.

Deadly Class views this charming group through the eyes of newcomer Marcus Lopez Arguello (Benjamin Wadsworth), who is to the rest of his classmates what butterscotch sauce is to pizza toppings.

Marcus hasn’t had a lot of breaks in his life. When we meet him, he’s homeless and broke. He eats unfinished fast-food hamburgers he plucks out of trash cans. He’s also wanted by the police for several gruesome murders.

He’s got an alibi for those murders, but since it’s generally assumed he committed them, Master Lin thinks he’d be a fit for King’s Dominion. He’s like the scholarship kid from the inner city, and since most of his classmates aren’t the mentoring type, he undergoes a fair amount of hazing.

Still, he seems to make friends with a few colleagues including Maria (Maria Gabriela de Faria), a member of the Soto Vatos clique. She’s the former girlfriend of the Soto Vatos leader, Chico (Michel Duval), who isn’t at all pleased that this new kid would disrespect him by speaking to Maria.

As a result, you might say Marcus’s get-acquainted conversation with Chico feels a bit chilly. Marcus muses that King’s Dominion is really the same as every other high school everywhere, with cool kids and mean girls and bullies, except that at King’s Dominion, “The knife in your back could be real.”

On the bright side, Marcus seems to have a genuine bonding experience with Willie (Luke Tennie), who also feels slightly out of place in this crowd. He’s only at King’s Dominion, he confides, because his mother insisted.

In the larger pictures, Deadly Class is a high school drama on angel dust, summoning a black-hearted den of evil that explodes off the pages of Remender’s graphic novel.

TV can’t deliver that same visceral pop. It can convey the same level of tension and the same sense of surreal menace in a group of kids who, from birth, have been shaped by this alternate moral universe.

Deadly Class even does a few scenes with graphic illustrations instead of live action. While that could get gimmicky fast, it’s nicely done here, fitting right into the flow.

If Deadly Class can keep it up, it’s got a shot at the honor roll.

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