April 13, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Rebecca Thomas and Brett Morgen
Culture Representation: Taking place in Colfax, Illinois, the mystery drama “When the Streetlights Go On” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: An African American man tells the story of the year he was 15, when two sisters from his high school were murdered within six months of each other.
Culture Audience: “When the Streetlights Go On” will appeal to people who like “mature audience”-level stories about teenagers and don’t mind if the stories have a lot of formulaic clichés.
The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in installments that look like episodes. One of the original movies that was part of Quibi’s launch is “When the Streetlights Go On,” a mystery drama about a man who tells the story about what happened in the year that he was 15 years old, when two sisters from a prominent family were murdered within six months of each other, beginning in the summer of 1995.
“When the Streetlights Go On” is narrated by a man named Charlie Chambers, but the entire story is told as a flashback to 1995, in the suburb of Colfax, Illinois, which was devastated by the murders of Chrissy Monroe (played by Kristine Froseth) and her younger sister Becky Monroe (played by Sophie Thatcher). Charlie is seen in “When the Streetlights Go On” only as his 15-year-old self (played by Chosen Jacobs), as the story unfolds from his perspective.
Chrissy was the sister who was murdered first, and her brutal slaying is shown in the first installment of “When the Streetlights Go On.” A popular high-school student, Chrissy also had a big secret: She was having an affair with her married teacher Steve Carpenter (played by Mark Duplass). Steve is so besotted with Chrissy that he tells her that he’s going to leave his wife for her. One night, while Chrissy and Steve meet in the woods for a tryst in his car, they are ambushed by a man armed with a gun and wearing a ski mask.
The masked man orders Steve to drive all three of them further into the woods, where he orders Steve and Chrissy to strip to their underwear before he shoots both of them in the head. The double homicide has stunned and terrified the community. And it’s at the forefront of the local high school’s gossip when school resumes in the fall, because the murderer hasn’t been caught yet. (“When the Streetlight Goes On” has some violence and language that don’t make it suitable for very young or very sensitive viewers.)
Heading the homicide investigation is Detective Darlene Grasso (played by Queen Latifah), who is a very by-the-numbers generic cop character that has been done many times before in TV shows and movies. Charlie, who’s a writer/reporter for the school’s newspaper, seems himself as an aspiring investigative journalist, so he asks to be assigned the story of investigating Chrissy’s murder.
Meanwhile, all eyes at the school are on Chrissy’s younger sister Becky, who is the opposite of Chrissy. Becky is quiet, withdrawn and one of those “quirky” creative types who doesn’t make friends easily. People feel sympathy for her but they also feel awkward around her because they don’t know what to say to her about her tragic loss. And a creepy thing happens when the murderer calls Chrissy’s phone number (which hadn’t been disconnected yet after she died), to apparently taunt the Monroe family and the authorities.
During the course of the story, two very different young men fall under suspicion for murdering Chrissy. One of the possible suspects is Brad Kirchoff (played by Ben Ahlers), who was Chrissy’s high-school boyfriend while she was also secretly having an affair with Steve Carpenter. There’s speculation that Brad (who’s a popular but very arrogant guy) might have found out about the affair, and murdered Chrissy and Steve out of jealousy and revenge. It doesn’t help Brad look innocent when he admits that he and Chrissy argued shortly before she was murdered.
The other young man who gets a lot of scrutiny is Casper Tatum (played by Sam Strike), a rebellious delinquent with an arrest record and a drug problem. Casper is a student who’s slightly older than high-school age because his failing grades have prevented him from graduating from high school with his original class. Because he’s over 18 and doesn’t seem to have any parental supervision, he has a lot more freedom than other students at the high school.
Because of Casper’s hoodlum reputation, more people in the community think that he’s the murderer than those who think Brad is the one who’s guilty. Casper has a massive crush on Becky, but he thinks he has no chance with her, because even if he weren’t under a cloud of suspicion for murdering her sister, Becky would still be considered out of Casper’s league. But Casper soon learns that Becky has a crush on him too, and they begin dating each other.
Casper and Becky’s relationship is a major scandal in the community. Becky ignores the orders of her parents (played by Cameron Bancroft and Eliza Norbury) to stop seeing Casper. One of the people who is the most offended by this romance is Brad, who thinks Becky is being disrespectful of Chrissy’s memory by dating someone whom a lot of people in the community think is the one who murdered Chrissy.
Needless to say, Brad isn’t shy about telling people that he thinks Casper is the murderer. Brad gets so angry at Becky that he curses her out and physically assaults her at school. Brad later apologizes to Becky, but when Casper hears about the assault, that leads Casper and Brad to have a major brawl at a house party attended by several of the students. It seems like every TV show or movie that’s centered on a high school has to show at least one big fight among students.
Meanwhile, Becky and Charlie become friends, as they bond over their mutual love of reading the same type of literature. You know where this is going: Charlie starts to fall for Becky too. And because Charlie is distracted by his feelings for Becky, it leads to him losing some interest in investigating Chrissy’s murder.
“When the Streetlights Go On” starts off promising, but it rapidly goes downhill when it starts to focus on Charlie falling in love with Becky. What happened to the murder mystery? It takes a back seat in the story after Charlie tries to get Becky to fall in love with him.
The acting in “When the Streetlights Go On” isn’t very remarkable, except for Thatcher, who gives a standout performance as the troubled and complicated Becky. And this story from screenwriters Chris Hutton and Eddie O’Keefe needed a lot of improvement. For example, it would’ve been better to not tell viewers up front that Becky would be murdered too.
When Becky’s death happens at the end, it’s not shocking because viewers know it’s coming. And when the murderer is finally revealed, how this reveal is handled is very rushed and almost like an afterthought. If you want to see yet another story about an angst-ridden teenage love triangle, then “When Streetlights Go On” might not disappoint you. But if you’re looking for a compelling drama about solving a murder mystery, then this isn’t that story.
Quibi premiered “When the Streetlights Go On” in 10 chapters, with the first three chapters debuting on April 6, 2020.