Four years and four movies later, The Purge series has made its way to the small screen. With so much content already created around this universe where all crime is legal one day out of the year, it begs the question: How much more story in this violent realm is left to tell? Can this high-concept thriller really keep up the stamina to make it through another 10 hours of story without growing stale, or are we to expect a rehashing of everything we have already seen of the box office hit, albeit spread out into weekly episodes? Perhaps it is too soon to tell, but the first episode gave at least a hint of what we might expect from the USA Network’s new show, and it's just in time for Halloween's horror onslaught in the coming weeks, too.
Episode 1 (“What Is America?”) takes us through the final few hours before the beginning of another year’s purge, and into its first few lawless moments. Where this purge falls in the timeline of the films is somewhat unclear, but regardless, the plot appears to be completely independent of its predecessors. The episode introduces us to a rather extensive number of characters, all seemingly separated from one another as they make their final preparations for the year’s most dangerous day; we will presumably be following them through the remainder of the season.
Although the episode feels rather bogged down by the amount of information it is trying to pack in, this small-screen installment is already providing a much greater show of diversity in its cast than the brand’s films. As Miguel, a U.S. Marine who returns home in search of his sister after she sends him a rather cryptic letter, Gabriel Chavarria sets himself up nicely as the series’ presumed lead, and his performance manages to shine even through the episode’s rather clunky expositional dialogue. Other potential standouts include Amanda Warren as Jane, a businesswoman with a secret vendetta; Colin Woodell and Hannah Emily Anderson as Rick and Jenna, a couple in way over their heads with a somewhat oversexualized backstory; and William Baldwin, who portrays Jane’s aggressively profit-driven boss, Don, in a somewhat surprising but brief appearance.
With the first episode primarily focused on exposition, it is hard to say where this show may go. It certainly has the building blocks of good television. The talent is mostly solid, and the characters are interesting enough. The show pulls its aesthetics and style from the films before it, which will do nothing but serve as a benefit, especially as the action and horror in the plot increase.
But still, one must hope the show does not fall into the traditional trappings of a violence-centric, scare-over-story television thriller. Television has become a medium that allows for much richer stories than film can provide, and The Purge has an opportunity to explore areas of its universe that it did not have the time for in its cinematic form, assuming creator-writer James DeMonaco has some more unique insights into this world that he has not yet exposed. The Purge films were their best in the moments when they focused on the humanity and personal relationships of the characters, the violence and fear around them simply an environment in which to explore the human psyche at its most afraid, aggressive or vulnerable moments.
If the show manages to wrangle its many characters and explore their experiences on more than a surface level but still pick up the pace from its rather slow opening episode, a good show may be made of it yet. The Purge series has managed to become more topical as time has gone on, but this show will need to take that topicality to the next level in order to maintain relevancy. If it fails to do so, it will be, at its worst, an overdrawn, oversaturated remnant of its previous blockbuster forms. Let's hope for everyone’s sake that it is not the latter.
The Purge airs Tuesdays on USA Network.