But the show’s first three episodes are missing a key ingredient that, even at their dumbest, kept the movies afloat.
Bouncing between blood-soaked streets and the swanky, protected world of the wealthy, The Purge tells several stories on one Purge Night. There’s Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), the Marine back home from war to look for his sister, Penelope (Jessica Garza), who has joined a cult that willingly gives themselves to Purgers. There’s Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Rick (Colin Woodell), a middle class couple trying to climb the social ladder at a fortified mansion while trying to avoid former lover Lila (Lili Simmons). And there’s Jane (Amanda Warren), an elite businesswoman working with a team to close a stock deal on Purge Night and waiting for the assassin she’s hired to kill the person she wants dead.
The Purge movies have never lived up to the biting potential of their central concept, and with the same team in place for the TV show, they’ve traded the gory R-rating safety net for the relative timidness of cable. The violence isn’t all disappointing (a silhouette axe attack on one of the passive, moony-eyed cult members is downright horrifying), but it doesn’t offer the same guilty pleasure the movies can point to when all the other criticisms come crashing down. The craziest thing about The Purge is that the producers behind the slasher soap opera movies thought the strongest base for their TV adaptation would be character drama.
In other words, The Purge doesn’t have violence to save it.
Miguel and Penelope’s story is where all the action is. He’s forced onto the unsafe streets where there’s no shortage of guns and ammo, and she and her robed cult (even those having second thoughts about suicide by mob) come face-to-face with killers. Unfortunately, Miguel is the epitome of a civilian TV writer’s version of a Marine, who keeps repeating his job title because that’s the extent of his personality and because we need a reason to believe he’s decent at surviving.
The show spins its wheels completely with the other two main stories. Jane is on the secure, 80-somethingth floor of an office building putting together a generic business deal, which is about as exciting as you’re imagining. The real story is out there somewhere with the assassin she’s hired, but we instead get some tedious flashbacks to Jane’s relationship with her boss, Don (Billy Baldwin), that explain why he would be the target.
Jenna and Rick’s story is even blander, consisting of a lot of furrowed brows and concerned looks at the party, repetitive talks about vague business deals, and overwrought concern that Lila (who they had a threesome with) is also at the party. The entirety of the show is played with a mysterious air that’s not intriguing, but empty, as if the writers were afraid something of consequence might actually happen.
It’s also not shot or edited with any particular energy or ingenuity, and you can feel the choreography more than the adrenaline in what few fights there are.
That inertia would be a problem for any show, but it’s especially telling here because The Purge doesn’t have a perspective or a voice. It takes place in Sometown, USA where people are either doing business, business, business or waiting around on a bus for their brother to find them or fighting random forgettables block to block.
It’s not that the characters aren’t fully realized, it’s that they aren’t realized at all, and that goes double for any kind of social commentary it’s pretending to make. The show is so afraid of getting specific about it’s near-future America, it feels a hell of a lot like a studio backlot where the plywood storefronts are all about to fall over.