james debate
james debate

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Created by Robert Kirkman
Network Amazon Prime
Starring Steven Yeun, J K Simmons, Sandra Oh
Genre Superhero Animation
Running Time 40-50 minutes

invincible season 1 2 steven yeun sandra oh jk simmons seth rogen jon hamm amazon best new show 2021
There is no shortage of superhero media available for streaming. The genre is big business in entertainment and recent years in particular have seen a glut of films and TV series inspired by lesser known properties such as The Umbrella Academy and Jupiter's Legacy, to the point of market-saturation. Even Amazon Prime has its own The Boys. Most of these series fail pretty quickly. It takes a lot to stand out in a crowded field, especially when you don't have the fanbase of a well known DC or Marvel on which to rely. It is somewhat remarkable, then, that Invincible manages to not only carve out its own identity but to stand out from the pack as one of the most exciting new television series in years.

A lot of the show's success is due to the quality of the source material. A satire of the superhero genre, Invincible draws on a number of familiar genre tropes, from the heroes themselves and their backstories to the villains, the plot devices and sense of humour, but then subverts expectations with its darker turns and often shocking violence. For newcomers, the first hour of the series will feel like a very traditional superhero origin story. It is only in the dying moments of the first episode that the true nature of Invincible reveals itself. It's one of the most genuinely shocking turns I have seen on TV for quite some time and sets the standard for a series that constantly surprises and flouts convention.

Granted, the idea of a superhero story with dark elements may no longer be as fresh as it was when the Invincible comic series first launched some twenty years ago (again, see Amazon's own The Boys). What still sets this story apart from others is firstly the reverence that its writers clearly have for the material that influenced the original comic series. This is, first and foremost, a damn good superhero universe that they have crafted, with all the fun and humour that one would expect of the genre, complete with rich world building, rules, and dynamics. It evokes a sense of nostalgia and familiarity that makes the more shocking turns all the more impactful.

The second element that still sets Invincible apart is its cast of characters. For all its thrills and spills, Invincible also serves as arguably the most nuanced take on superhero psychology since the original Watchmen novel. The TV adaptation, wisely, leans heavily into this character-centric storytelling and brings them brilliantly to life with its all-star cast that features the likes of Steven Yeun, J K Simmons, Sandra Oh, Seth Rogen, Jason Mantzoukas, Jon Hamm, Mark Hamill, and many others.

But even the best source material doesn't guarantee a good TV series and an equal amount of credit needs to be given to those behind this adaptation. The writing is sharp, the pacing pitch perfect, and the general direction and presentation is extremely well formed. You can tell these are people who absolutely love the genre and cinema as a whole, and understand what works and what doesn't. If I were to make one criticism of the adaptation it would be on the technical side. For whatever reason, the audio levels are way out of whack on this series, whisper quiet one moment and deafening the next. This can sometimes be an issue when watching certain TV series without a decent sound system, but in this case it really is quite jarring and from the online buzz appears to be a common complaint.

Even at a time of mass over-saturation of the genre, Invincible stands out as one of the best pieces of superhero media in years. Sharp, inventive, and continually surprising. This series is just a lot of fun to watch, easy to recommend both for lovers of superhero stories and good television in general.

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