4 out of 5
Created by: Andrew Dabb
covers season 1
I know, we’ve been through a lot together: 6 movies, a reboot movie, some CG movies, an uneven CG series… We’ve been through a lot, and none of it’s been quite what you want, has it? It’s either way too far away from those games you love, or maybe way too close to them in a way that doesn’t help explain or justify your appreciation to new viewers, and / or maybe the production or writing or acting just isn’t up to snuff in general. And so you look upon a new live action series with a raised, questioning eyebrow – dropped somewhat unceremoniously upon a streaming service which has, in the recent past, been much criticized for crowding the market with some quick cash-in jobs – and try not to expect much.
Perhaps your expectations are met: the new Resident Evil series has a couple references, does some visual nods, slides somewhere into the chronology, but still maybe doesn’t feel very Resident Evil-y – whatever that may mean at this point? – and notably spends it’s comparatively limited budget on a couple splashy sequences, but otherwise seems moderately uninterested in its bread-and-butter zombies (here called ‘zeroes’), and is oddly very sedate but a horror thriller, and what’s up with favoring character development and dialogue over action and violence?
…Maybe you can sense where some of my bias is coming in here, as I found Netflix’s new Resident Evil series to be an almost ideal way of expanding upon and adapting the franchise, perhaps straying from going full bore blood and zombos and Racoon City destruction thanks to that aforementioned budget, but thus forced to carve out a legitimate story – with really fun twists! – as a result. All of the core characters here feel like they get their due, and more, to the extent that I cared about them beyond being just figureheads to carry us through the drama; further than that, the show’s flashback / present-day structure does not run into the general flaw with such things – a lack of tension given the flashbacks contain modern day characters – thanks to some really well-effected mysteries that remain interesting even once explored.
In a post-Covid 2022, sisters Jade (Tamara Smart) and Billie (Siena Agudong) Wesker have moved to planned community ‘New Racoon City’ along with their father, Albert (Lance Reddick), in support of the company for which he works – Umbrella. The community – school included – are all part of the packaged Umbrella deal, as they aim towards perfecting a new feel-good miracle drug called Joy. Rumors of some past incidents involving testing – perhaps at the original Racoon City (here connecting us to the games, though for the uninitiated, that connection is not important) – abound; some other oddities in the girls’ daily lives, such as frequent blood draws done by daddy, create animosity, but otherwise, it’s the two sisters against the world, life as usual.
…And in 2036, an adult Jade (Ella Balinska) is conducting research of some type out in a dilapidated looking wasteland, communicating with a husband and daughter over video chat. The world has obviously changed; something happened between then and now, and her research – observing zombies, part of this changed world – is in search of some kind of eventual cure, or salve.
And then 2036 Jade slips up, gets cut, the blood-sniffing zombies go wild, and we start on the long chase that occupies the first 3/4ths of the show to a degree, Jade’s escape from these zombies leading to getting mixed up in modern day Umbrella business, which seems quite intertwined with her family history, helping to frame why we keep flashing back to 2022, as the two sisters learn more about their father, and the company for which he works.
While RE makes sure to give us a big sequence up front, proving it’s willing to do some core and get weird with creature with effects, it is, as previously mentioned, much more interested in its characters, and story, and the show’s writers have made sure that one affects the other: the Weskers are integral to our understanding of What’s Going On, and Jade, Billie, and Albert’s personalities and evolutions across the episodes are incredibly relevant. As such, we need actors who can infuse those characters with weight, giving their arcs emotional resonance; thankfully, everyone is very up to the task. The sisters’ occasionally testy bond feels very real (at least to me), and the mix of sternness and affection Reddick displays as Albert is perfect, not to mention some very fun character acting he gets to indulge in later on. Paola Núñez, playing an Umbrella villainess, is perhaps a bit more one-dimensional, but there’s still enough there where we can understand her cog-in-the-machine persona. Other Umbrella baddie Baxter is depicted by Turlough Convery, and he’s… not so great, unfortunately, playing in a campier version of the show than the rest of the actors, part of the undercurrent that prevents the show from being perfect.
Namely, that undercurrent is the budget. While, as mentioned, I think this ultimately encouraged a much more story-first vibe, and creativity with including some RE staples (a mystery “mansion;” certain creatures), the zombies / zeroes occasionally feel like an afterthought – and there’s limited makeup to go around, there – and some sequences reek of stretching things out to make use of sets. But this is different from the “bloat” a lot of TV shows experience, as there’s no whole episode or scene that feels unnecessary, just some of the stitching can be a little worn at points.
However, even after all of the above-mentioned iterations, I found the way the overall story was stitched together – the dual timelines; the reveals – to be incredibly compelling, and the casting of our key players was all really spot on, the three main female leads really making me see them as humans going through these extreme situations, which definitely elevated the thrills throughout.
I can appreciate that this was likely more tame than RE fans wanted, but we can get zombie thrills in a million places now, and big budget spectaculars just aren’t so spectacular anymore. Taking the guts of the games’ themes and adapting them to the screen is a bigger – and more interesting – challenge, and I really think the show far exceeded that goal.