THE PURGE is a movie series that is now being continued on the small screen, currently airing on USA. The premise involves a radical group called the New Founding Fathers of America taking over the government and instituting a holiday that shares a name with the series. Once a year for twelve hours, all crime (including murder and rape) is made legal, with emergency service workers going off duty. The rich huddle in their protected homes, while the poor are often the participants and the victims.
In this framework, viewers of the TV program meet a number of characters. Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria, East Los High) is a United States Marine who has come home looking for his sister on Purse Night. Said sister, Penelope (Jessica Garza, Six), has joined a cult that sacrifices themselves to those celebrating the event. Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson, Jigsaw) and Rick (Colin Woodell, The Originals) consider themselves good people, but find themselves rubbing elbows with the morally questionable, especially Albert Stanton (Reed Diamond, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), as they seek funding for their business venture. Jane (Amanda Warren, The Leftovers) usually plays by the rules, but decides to take on her boss (William Baldwin, Dirty Sexy Money) when she has the chance. And there are others, but these are the primary players in the first three episodes, those made available to critics for screening.
None of these characters are in the movies, but some of the organizations and concepts are. Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen the films, as I have not, the series doesn’t take the time to make the rules clear. Yes, it’s easy to understand that people are very violent and are allowed to get away with it for a night. But there are lots of details left out that apparently one would need to have seen the movies to understand.
This does detract from the enjoyment of THE PURGE. As a concept, I find it very interesting. Many have touched on such a thing before, including an episode of the original Star Trek back in the 1960s (which Ben Stiller’s production company is named after). And the show does seem like it will explore some of the concepts in the way (I assume) the movies didn’t have time to do. Morality plays that make you question your values and realign your viewpoints in the face of a much-changed world are in vogue; just look at The Walking Dead.
To its detriment, THE PURGE doesn’t embrace this as fully as it should. Instead, it seems like much more screen time is given to the senseless violence and quick thrills. While these are absolutely necessary to properly tell the story, it’s the balance that feels off, holding the show back from being as good as it could be.
That being said, it is still enjoyable popcorn television. It does touch on some of the things that should be explored further, and hopefully if it gets multiple seasons, they will be. It doesn’t feel too limited by the constraints of basic cable, which generally don’t allow shows to get too gory or intense (AMC and FX historically taking a lot more liberties than this network, USA). It finds a way to skirt that line, keeping it relatively tame while not feeling like it is.
If you like the movies, you’ll probably like the television show. If you don’t like the movies, I’m guessing you should stay away. But if you haven’t seen them, check this out and make up your own mind. Is it worth getting through the brutality to get to the scenes where the characters really dig in? I think it probably is, especially if this world is allowed plenty of time to develop, and you may agree.
THE PURGE premiered last week and airs Tuesdays at 10ET on USA.
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CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.