Amazon’s Fallout TV series is excellent, fits right in with the games


Fallout is a franchise that’s held together by tone just as much as any unifying story beats or canon. The series’ distinct post-apocalyptic vision of an America that never escaped the wide eyes, fake smiles, and faker optimism of the Cold War has become iconic, and its version of Americana shot through with radioactive black humor is more identifiable than any single character from the games will ever be (except Vault Boy, of course). It’s a series that revels in its ability to be funny, touching, sad, sweet, and disgusting all in a single moment. And that tone is what Amazon Prime Video’s new Fallout TV series captures best, and what makes it an excellent addition to the franchise, rather than just an adaptation.

The new show, created by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner, smartly adapts Fallout’s world and setting without attempting to retell any of the stories from the game series directly. There are Vaults, where cheery survivors of the nuclear blasts that destroyed most of America wait out the apocalypse. We’ve got the militaristic Brotherhood of Steel, along with irradiated surface-dwellers known as ghouls. And just about everything in the vast Wasteland and out is run by Vault-Tec. In other words, it’s a world that’s unmistakably rooted in Fallout’s canon. It’s a loving re-creation of the icons of the Fallout universe, but it’s also more than that, pushing the entire franchise forward into a new story and bigger world.

Fallout’s story is mostly centered around Lucy (Ella Purnell), a Vault Dweller who leaves her home to find her father (Kyle MacLachlan). In her travels through the Wasteland, she meets Maximus (Aaron Moten), a squire in the Brotherhood of Steel; a bounty hunter simply known as The Ghoul (Walton Goggins); and plenty of other very strange denizens.

The show follows all of these characters as their paths cross and converge in the Wasteland of Los Angeles in search of a scientist who has escaped the Enclave with a dangerous technology that could change the balance of power in the Wasteland forever. In typical Fallout fashion, this story is mostly here to help push our heroes further into the world of the Wasteland to see all the strangeness it has to offer.

Lucy (Ella Purnell) stands with a scientist (Michael Emerson) and a shopkeeper from the Wasteland (Dale Dickey) all looking at something

Photo: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video

A priest of the Brotherhood of Steel blessing some brothers in their power armor

Photo: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video

Walton Goggins as a ghoul in the Fallout series on Amazon Prime Video

Image: Prime Video

That world is one of the things Fallout nails from its earliest moments. The live-action Vaults have the same steel-caged Americana atmosphere that made them immediately effective in Fallout 3’s opening, with long, artificially bright hallways lined with cheerful mailboxes and blast-proof doors. But it’s on the surface where the show really starts to shine. Fallout was filmed on location and with gorgeous and grimy practical sets that make the Wasteland feel real and alive. Clothes are ripped and torn, walls are rough and patched, and everything from the guns to the technology feels cobbled together from the scrap of the world that used to be. All of this comes into sharp focus anytime the Brotherhood of Steel appears in its power-armored glory, looking terrifying in its completeness.

There are plenty of Easter eggs, as you might expect from a video game adaptation, but Fallout manages to make them seem like part of the world, too. It all feels real and believable as pieces of a whole existence that these people have scraped together, which goes a long way toward helping the show’s humor land. Even the Easter eggs feel carefully designed to fit into the world and the lives of the characters, rather than drawing focus away from them or sticking out as a glaring distraction. But as well-drawn as Fallout’s world is, it’s the characters that really make the show stand both head and shoulders above other video game adaptations, and over most TV shows released so far this year.

In the show’s first few episodes, Lucy greets the Wasteland with nothing but fascination and kindness, giving us a window to experience the horrors of the surface by proxy. This too-innocent schtick is one that constantly threatens to wear thin but never does, thanks in large part to Purnell’s winning charm and laser-precise delivery of the show’s many punchlines. But even more impressive is the show’s commitment to giving her an arc. She constantly meets characters who tell her that the Wasteland changes people, sucks the humanity and goodness out of them until nothing is left but survival. A lesser show might use Lucy as a big-eyed, bumbling example of how goodness and kindness can win out in the end, but the Fallout creators strive to examine something more interesting: How can you keep your humanity when kindness is off the table? Her pluckiness and can-do attitude never die, but her values shift — sometimes subtly, as she realizes she can’t help everyone she sees in the Wasteland, and other times more abruptly, like when she meets a pair of cannibals on the road. It’s a literal and metaphorical journey, one that deepens a character that easily could have ended up as the boring and naïve archetype she seems like on paper.

Lucy (Ella Purnell) and her dad Hank (Kyle MacLachlan) sitting on a couch smiling in a Vault living room

Image: Prime Video

Maximus (Aaron Moten) standing in his squire uniform

Image: Prime Video

This kind of impressive depth and creativity is all over Fallout’s characters. Maximus gets a fascinating arc about coming to terms with the fact that the members of the Brotherhood of Steel might not be the paragons of virtue that he thought, and even Lucy’s little brother back in Vault 33 gets a fun mystery story about the nature of his Vault’s relationship to those around them. The show also excels in its brief, silly one-off stories about eccentric survivors that are nicer (or crazier) than our main characters originally assumed.

It’s no surprise that the characters are the strongest part of Fallout; after all, it’s the shared middle ground between the game series and the medium of television. For all the qualities of their main stories, the real joy of Fallout games is exploring the Wasteland, finding its strangest inhabitants, and hearing their ridiculous stories and bizarre beliefs, or witnessing their comically absurd feats of violence and survival. Robertson-Dworet and Wagner’s Fallout captures this feeling perfectly, with characters in every episode stumbling into new situations that feel like they could easily be side quests taken straight from the games, like an organ-harvesting ring in an old supermarket or an open Vault where things are much stranger than they appear.

While all of this makes for an excellent and entertaining TV show — and a surprisingly effective adaptation of the series — Fallout’s biggest coup is how much it effortlessly adds to the world of the games. Most of the series’ deeper lore implications come by way of flashbacks of The Ghoul’s life before the war. These snippets make up a very small part of the show’s run time, but they tell a compelling mystery story centered around Vault-Tec, giving us our best look yet at its origins and the political murkiness of Fallout’s prewar period. It’s a thoughtful look at how Fallout’s world came to be so broken, all told through the lens of the kind of ’50s Hollywood noir film that would feel right at home as a reference in one of the games.

A still of Walton Goggins walking out of a Vault door in a suit, talking to the camera

Photo: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video

a still of Moisés Arias and Dave Register in Fallout season 1

Photo: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video

Fallout justifies its existence by bringing new things to the universe it’s set in, without setting itself apart from that universe. Unlike other recent video game adaptations, such as The Last of Us, which capably and elegantly retell the story of their source material, Fallout expands on it by building out the world of the games that fans already love. The Fallout series’ open-world design makes any adaptation complicated, considering how much content the games can pack into their massive settings that players could spend hundreds of hours on. But building on a preexisting world like this is difficult. Fans are fiercely protective of the worlds they love — which is why a show like Halo built a separate timeline for its adaptation, or why Twisted Metal totally changed the lore of its bygone franchise. But Fallout pulls off the high-wire act brilliantly. Robertson-Dworet and Wagner’s admiration for the video game series is obvious, but what’s more important here is their ability to make a good TV show with a well-told story and interesting characters, which just happens to be deeply rooted in Fallout’s world and signature so-dark-you-have-to-laugh tone.

In the press tour for the show, its creators have frequently said that they thought of the Prime Video series more like Fallout 5 than just an adaptation of the video game franchise. And perhaps the highest praise the show earns is that it absolutely feels like a game sequel that happens to be transposed into another medium. And after a fantastic first season, it’s hard to be anything but excited for the next chapter of Fallout, whether that’s a new season of TV or a return to video games.

Fallout season 1 drops on Prime Video on April 10.

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Date : 2024-04-10 07:00:00

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