‘Fallout’ surfaces as a series

April 18, 2024 3:08 pm

[Source: CNN Entertainment]

“Fallout” surfaces in such arresting fashion – at a kid’s birthday party, of all places – that the Amazon series appears destined to join “The Last of Us” in mastering the journey from game to screen.

As the first season progresses, though, this post-apocalyptic concept feels closer to “Twisted Metal” by getting lost somewhere in the wastelands, carrying a dense mythology that recalls “Westworld” in its wider, highly cynical view of the world.

That latter comparison hardly feels accidental, since the new series falls under the supervision of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who made “Westworld” one of TV’s most compelling series until, pretty abruptly, it wasn’t.

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While “Fallout” should rouse the curiosities of those devoted to the Tim Cain-created game, its wider appeal seems unlikely to rival the aforementioned HBO hits, despite an impressive visual palette and mix of quirkiness and gruesome violence more ably balanced in Amazon’s signature series “The Boys.”

Just trying to describe the story of “Fallout” offers a taste of how unwieldy the framework is, at least until its parallel lines begin to intersect.

The initial focus involves vault dwellers who have survived for more than 200 years underground since nuclear annihilation, where, as their leader says, they have endeavored to “keep the candle of civilization lit.”

Soon enough, their reverie is shattered, and one of their number, Lucy (“Yellowjackets’” Ella Purnell), embarks on a mission that takes her deep into the brutal world above.

There, the wide-eyed Lucy encounters irradiated monsters galore; metal-clad knights (think Iron Man, but clunkier), with Aaron Moten playing a squire for a militaristic group dubbed the Brotherhood of Steel; and a character known as the Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a mutated bounty hunter whose nose-less visage resembles Marvel’s Red Skull, with a backstory that provides the show’s strongest mythological hook.

“I hate it up here,” Lucy mutters early on, and given the horrors to which she’s subjected, nobody could blame her. Yet her quest not only involves no shortage of carnage but also insights into her community and its origins, as well as encounters (some relatively brief) with a strong array of co-stars, including Moisés Arias, Kyle MacLachlan, Sarita Choudhury, Michael Emerson, and Leslie Uggams.

After overseeing “The Peripheral,” Nolan (lest anyone have forgotten, the brother and frequent collaborator of Christopher Nolan) directs the first three of the eight episodes, which establish both the darkly comic, sci-fi/western tone and a scale that suggests this represents another major bet for Prime Video.

Charitably, the eight episodes only scratch the surface of the abundant narrative possibilities baked into the premise, which structurally speaking could set up “Fallout” for a long run, much like the recent (and more effective) “3 Body Problem.” The show has already secured tax credits from the state of California that will make a second season more attractive.

Even so, as Season 1 concludes, there’s less a sense of anticipation for what comes next than general relief that this somewhat messy introduction, and the contortions to incorporate its eclectic roster of players, is over.

As noted, there’s ample room to further explore the world of “Fallout.” Still, grading on the curve of game-to-screen translations, seeing this candle doused wouldn’t feel like the end of the world.

“Fallout” premieres April 11 on Amazon’s Prime Video.