Blood & Water: A Teen Drama Unlike the Rest

In Netflix’s second African original series the saying “Blood is thicker than water” takes center stage.

Blood & Water follows South African teen Puleng Khumalo (Ama Qamata) as she stumbles upon a journey to find her long-lost older sister.

We meet an uncomfortable Puleng at her older sister Phumelele’s 17th birthday party. Aiming to keep hope alive that she will somehow find her real family, if she’s even alive at all, the Khumalos hold a birthday celebration every year for the missing teen, who was abducted as a baby. It’s clear Puleng is saddened by how her sister’s abduction has impacted the dynamics of her family: everyone is grieving in ways that make it difficult for the family to bond, find joy, and move forward.

After a spat with her mom (Gail Mabalane) at the “celebration”, Puleng goes to an impromptu party with her best friend Zama (Cindy Mahlangu). The party she later learns is for a girl named Fikile (Khosi Ngema), who is also celebrating her birthday. An undeniable resemblance and the coincidence of birthdays leads the grieving teen to believe that this birthday girl is the sister her family has so badly longed for for the last 17 years.

After the party, Puleng finds creative ways to get close to Fikele as she investigates if the elite teen is really her sibling. To do this, she transfers to Parkhurst College, where most of Puleng, Fikele, and the rest of the cast’s problems fester until they come to a head.

Blood & Water is addictive storytelling at its best. Every episode in the six-episode season leaves you wanting to know more, and wanting to know it now—but not in the corny I knew that was coming kind of way.

The kinship between friends and shifts between lovers are innocent for the most part, but it doesn’t make these teens’ stories any less juicy. The series doesn’t need to be likened to Netflix’s Spanish soap-like drama Elite, American favorite Gossip Girl, Riverdale or any other teen drama—the show is strong on it’s own. What especially sets it apart is, though set at a well to-do school, Blood & Water doesn’t center so much on luxuries and class differences. Though class is a clear element of the show, the focus is truly on how a child abduction completely altered the course of life for a relatable family. Unlike most melodramas, the premise is on a real-life matter: child abduction, a common crime in South Africa. Blood & Water expertly balances the serious, the light-hearted, and the all-around fun parts of being a teen in 2020. Seeing this story through the lens of a South African teen is a true privilege.

After the success of Queen Sono, which is also based in South Africa, Blood & Water is further proof that Netflix’s African series are on the right track. Hopefully upcoming shows take us to more places on the continent.

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