Parallels

3 out of 5

Created by: Quoc Dang Tran

covers season 1

When several of the kids from a small group of teenaged friends go missing one night – suddenly; lights flickering, then back on and they’re gone – with the timing seeming mysteriously linked to the tests run by a nearby research facility, only for these same kids to turn up again, though differently aged, and perhaps not all in the same version of their world… despite the complexity of that description, the connection, for many modern streaming-service viewer, will be clear: Oh, okay, so this is the less bleak, Disney+ version of time travel epic Dark, now in French.

It definitely seems that way at first, with similar visual effects, and a similar obliqueness in the way it handles its explanations, while also appreciatively dealing with characters grasping their situations rather logically.

And the comparison isn’t a bad one: for as excellent as Dark was and would turn out to be, it was also frustratingly impenetrable at times, and so cagey as to be difficult to recall what was happening, episode to episode. Lightening it up and simplifying the time travel concept allows for Parallels to joke around a bit, while also having a serious undertone to that impact-waves of the time travel. Once the premise is established, it even makes a bid to become excellent all on its own, with some well-handled character work, and intriguing ways each of our travelers decides to interact with their new timelines / worlds; there’s not the top-down mystery of Dark, so the show can be very directly satisfying. One more twist is introduced that pushes it over the top – Parallels becomes a unique hodge-podge of sci-fi concepts.

…But its plot speed bumps, which are pleasantly rolled over at first, start to become bigger and more abrupt, with the series willfully ignoring some elements until too late, and needing way more than a skinny, 6-episode runtime (with 30ish minute episodes!) to clear matters up; it starts to flail a bit past the midway point, then gets forehead slappingly deus ex convenient, and pretty much falls on its face during the wrap-up.

Really, the show has just brought itself back down to earth: these flubs are pretty standard for average sci-fi, when cool ideas and concepts have exceeded the grasp of scripters (or the limitations of time / budget / we’re not sure we’re getting a second season), just the build up in the previous episodes when things kept getting increasingly smarter, more nuanced, and more fun, means the letdown is a farther fall. Not unworth watching by any means, but perhaps best with the spoiler in mind of not allowing expectations to get too inflated.