The Purge TV Series Review: Episode 1 ‘What is America?’

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After the credits rolled following The Purge’s pilot episode – What Is America? – I was left wondering where this mini-series is headed. Unlike the films this show is spun-off from, The Purge takes its time to establish the different characters and settings.

This is a much slower and more methodical Purge than many fans may be ready for. Yet, this is the greatest strength of the show. It’s clearly determined to get us invested in the three principle storylines before a drop of blood is spilled.

For the unfamiliar, it’s set in the near future and America has embraced a new holiday called The Purge. For 12 hours every year all crimes – including murder – are legal. The theory is that by releasing all their pent-up aggression in one night the country will flourish both economically and culturally. This has always been a fascinating concept, but rarely have the films explored the world outside of everyone acting like Jason Voorhees.

**Spoilers ahead**

The Purge TV series seeks to rectify this by delivering three separate storylines set during a single night of The Purge. Businesswoman Jane (Amanda Warren) is attempting to negotiate a big international deal alongside her co-workers in a heavily fortified office. Couple Rick (Colin Woodell) and Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson) are hoping to secure an investment during an NFFA (New Found Fathers of America) gala. Then there’s Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria) who is attempting to find his sister Penelope (Jessica Garza) who has joined a Purge-focused cult based on sacrificing themselves to “sinners.”

The Purge

The latter is (so far) the most intriguing story of the three. Religion and The Purge have always intersected, so the idea of a murder-worshiping cult doesn’t feel out of place. Even though the cult’s motives are fairly transparent, it’s still engaging enough to make me wonder how and why it was formed. There’s a moment in this episode where one cult member is clearly having a crisis of faith. It’s visually powerful and does a solid job of showing what the stakes are for Penelope if Miguel doesn’t find her.

Speaking of Miguel, most of his storyline was spent on him running around town and following clues to Penelope’s location. Chavarria gives a solid performance, but much of the drama and action felt bland. Though we suspect that Miguel is going to be our catalyst for seeing all the insane, more bloodthirsty aspects of The Purge.

In contrast, Rick and Jenna’s storyline is clearly going to act as a way for us to see how the rich embrace this event. If you’re familiar with the film franchise you won’t find anything too exciting. There’s clearly some additional drama revolving around Jenna, Rick, and a mysterious third woman, but What Is America? kept this in the shadows for now. Thankfully, the duo has solid chemistry and their love for one another is quite believable.

However, they produce the most groan-worthy moment of the first episode. Having two well-off people explain to their personal driver that they aren’t like the evil rich people at the party is comically straightforward. The films have always delivered their message with the subtlety of a raging fire, mainly due to time constraints. The Purge doesn’t have this issue, yet everything feels exceptionally blunt for no other reason than the movies did that.

The Purge TV Show

When The Purge TV series works best is when we get a personal, up-close look at how this event is affecting people. Having a party of rich people wearing masks of dead serial killers because they “paved the way” for The Purge is so on the nose it hurts. This is why Jane’s story – despite being the least dramatic of the three – has the best potential to really show the outside effects of this holiday. I’ve always been curious what and how corporations take advantage of this night. If there were no rules, what’s to stop a rival company from doing every illegal trick in the book to get ahead?

It’s full of possibility and I honestly hope that Jane’s story doesn’t immediately devolve into murder or some more visceral. We have two stories presumably covering that angle and it’s obvious that Jane is up to something illegal. Warren gives a decent performance, even if most of her dialogue is her dictating to a room full of employees. I want to like Jane and hope that The Purge takes her story in a fresh direction.

Visually the show is fine, though it is funny to watch a show bend over backwards to not show some of the more violent parts. The Purge hasn’t gotten into anything really insane yet, but I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of quick cuts and murderous silhouettes. Despite the ham-fisted delivery of a few themes, The Purge is remarkably restrained when it comes to its pacing. This entire episode is focused on building up the characters and world, which is certainly a jarring shift from the mad dash pace of the movies.

Ultimately, we look forward to what The Purge offers. This pilot episode wasn’t perfect, but it’s a solid appetizer for what we expect will be a very, very brutal main course.

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