USA Network’s new television series, The Purge, is exactly what one would expect after seeing the first four movies in the film franchise: Schlocky, B-movie fare written on a typewriter with a sledgehammer (it is not subtle) and just violent and compelling enough to keep viewers hooked for at least a few hours, though it remains to be seen whether it can keep viewers invested over 10 hours as more series command our attention as they roll out through the fall.
The first season of the series takes place over the course of one night of The Purge — a half-day period in which the government sanctions lawlessness and murder — and at this point, The Purge itself is treated like a fact of life, like taxes and a Cleveland Browns losing season. Newscasts treat it like a routine weather pattern — “It’s gonna be a big one this year, Bob” — and the American population buys up guns like Cabbage Patch Dolls on Christmas.
It is what it is, and while the wealthy folks treat the Purge as a kind of national holiday that reinforces their place on the social hierarchy, poor folks treat it like a bad storm: Lock the door, board up the windows, grab their guns, hang tight, and hopefully wake up in the morning with all their guts intact.
Ostensibly, the advantage to a television series based on The Purge is that it will allow for more character development so that viewers get more attached to these people before their lives are put in danger or they are killed off. Based on the characters introduced in the pilot, however, I am skeptical of the show’s ability to do that: Like the satire involved, the characters are fairly one dimensional. Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria) is the good-guy Marine who returns home and goes out in search of his sister, Penelope, who has joined a cult that sacrifices themselves to The Purge for the greater good (that greater good being the need to allow the country’s citizenry to exorcise the violence from their system). After witnessing a member of the cult hacked into little pieces by ax-wielding Purgers, Penelope’s faith is shaken.
Meanwhile, Jane (Amanda Warren) works in finance and, while putting together a big deal over the course of Purge night, she decides to take out a hit on someone else in order to get ahead, and she must wrestle with her own demons over the decision. I know the least about Rick and Jenna (a married couple played by Colin Woodell and Hannah Emily Anderson) and Lila (Lili Simmons), which makes them the most intriguing, so far. Charitable do-gooders Rick and Jenna find that they’re in over their heads when they attend a fancypants ball and encounter Lila — a wealthy but rebellious woman who hangs with the pro-Purge socialite crowd — and who also happens to be a woman with whom the married couple once had a threesome. The Purge will not only test their resolve but their marriage — basically, a Lifetime movie subplot with government-sanctioned murder.
Lee Tergeson — who somehow hasn’t already appeared in a The Purge movie — plays a guy who drives around town intervening in acts of the Purge while listening to motivational tapes in his car, which sounds like the quintessential Lee Tergeson role.
There’s not a lot of meat on these bones, but that’s typical of The Purge movies: It’s a great premise that mostly fritters away its satirical possibilities but still manages to succeed by turning rich, old white dudes into villains, building them up, and then killing them off. It’s not great entertainment, exactly, but it can be very satisfying. The question is: Will viewers stick around for 10 episodes to get a fix that the movies provide in 90 minutes?
Header Image Source: USA Network