School Spirits focuses on Maddie Nears (Peyton List); a teen stuck in the afterlife who decides to investigate her mysterious disappearance alongside a group of other students who are also stuck in limbo at their high school. The rest of the world believes Maddie is missing, but with her spirit stuck in the place she died, her mission is to find out what happened to her.
The show does have a light feel to it that contrasts nicely with darker moments. It is the spirits who provide levity and the living who experience the darker moments as they are wrapped in grief and the mystery of what happened. Normally, that would not go together well, but the ensemble of characters provides a mix of personality that aids Maddie’s mission, and provides the stark contrast of themes. Like Maddie, it strangely works. It is not comedic, but there is some levity to it that helps the series not take itself too seriously.
From the first episode, the characters are well established and some suspects in Maddie’s murder subtly make themselves known, while other people’s suspicions add more to the list of potential murders. The performances are good, varying from the lighter side of the Spirits Support Group that help guide Maddie through her afterlife and each personality is given time to establish. Rhonda (Sarah Yarkin) has the most connection to Maddie since she was also murdered in high school but unlike everyone else, Maddie cannot remember her death, which helps progress the mystery and exploration into the characters. Rhonda is bitter and dejected from the world which contrasts to the spirit characters that are calmer or more relaxed like jock Wally (Milo Manheim), teacher Mr. Martin (Josh Zuckerman) and Maddie’s guide Charley (Nick Pugliese).
Aside from the murder mystery, the spirits are a great addition and adds a variety to the characters and for the plot. You’ll learn how they all died and how they have come to terms with their situation in limbo as they try to move on under the guidance of Mr. Martin, but moving on is harder than you think. They have accepted their situation; some of them do so bitterly, but guide Maddie through her array of feelings. They create a contrast to Maddie’s still alive friends who struggle with her disappearance and believe her to be dead. Particularly when Simon (Kristian Flores) becomes involved and must navigate his own grief, suddenly seeing Maddie’s spirit and trying to identify her killer.
While repetitive, School Spirits keeps its mystery despite sticking to the same formula after the first episode. Someone is suspected, they’re investigated, they look questionable and then it can be resolved. There are times when the suspects seem very on the nose but it does provide and exploration into the mystery and characters.
Despite episodes feeling repetitive and performances that can be one note, there is enough of a story to keep you entertained. Peyton List delivers a varied performance and excels in the leading role. The variety of characters helps move the plot forward, but the tedious formula takes away from that.
For the MVC, it is a tie between Maddie and Simon. Maddie is the driving force due to her murder and backstory before her life was taken with Peyton List giving an instant likeable performance. Simon has a loyalty that propels everything forward and delivers impassioned moments that add layers to the series as the characters deal with grief and loss. The friendship and bond between the two is a great addition, with the two of them focused on finding out who the killer is while navigating the spirit world and the living.
The first 3 episodes of School Spirits were screened for review.
School Spirits will release March 9th on Paramount Plus.