james debate
james debate

Thursday 2 May 2024

Created by Graham Wagner, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Jonathan Nolan
Network Amazon
Starring Ella Purnell, Aaron Moten, Walton Goggins
Genre Science Fiction, Satire
Running Time 45-74 minutes

fallout videogame amazon bethesda new vegas ella purnell walton goggins best new show 2024
Fans of geeky TV series are eating well. Hot on the heels of Netflix's really-pretty-good 3 Body Problem adaptation last month, comes Amazon with an even less likely adaptation of the celebrated Fallout series of videogames. 

So first of all, what is Fallout? In terms of its setting, Fallout takes inspiration from midcentury imaginings of the "world of tomorrow". Thinly veiled Cold War propaganda about the coming atomic age and how a combination of nuclear power and capitalism would bring us all flying cars, robot butlers and commuting to outer space. Fallout imagines a world where the future came to pass exactly as those 1950s propaganda films predicted: a world of all-American nuclear families, where everyone looks, dresses and talks like the 1950s, living in Googie houses and surrounded by sci-fi tech rendered with a retro-futuristic "atom-punk" aesthetic. But with that future came the darker side of atomic power, nuclear war. 

So Fallout is a satire of the politics and consumerism of the era. A cautionary tale against rampant jingoism and unregulated greed. Set in the nuclear wasteland of that obliterated world of marvels, each game in the series typically involves a series of factions and characters fighting over what remains, each with their own comically zealous ideology. 

Amazon's new TV adaptation adheres very closely to both the tone and moralism of the source material. This is a deeply silly world, with colourful characters that range from hopelessly naive to comically selfish, but always with a grain of truth to their motivations. It is also a very violent world, as the cold hard reality of the horrors of war continually crash against the blinkered optimism of its premise. This violence is over-the-top and bloody, just as fans of the games will expect. TV fans can imagine something like The Boys to get a sense of its severity.

Without spoiling too much of the story, Fallout follows three main protagonists. The first is Lucy, a young woman who has grown up in a vault, constructed pre-war to shelter survivors until enough time had passed to allow them to reclaim the surface. This is a classic Fallout trope that mirrors the opening of most of the games. Starting off in a vault, with characters completely alien to the shenanigans happening on the surface, is a great way to introduce newcomers to the setting, allowing both the character and viewers to discover this world at the same time.

The second is The Ghoul, a pre-war actor heavily irradiated by an atomic blast in the war, rendered horrifically disfigured, yet functionally ageless by his mutations. Scarred by this post-war world, and dark secrets in his past, The Ghoul serves as a more experienced window into the setting, cynical and jaded, his sense of morality long-since eroded.

Possibly most interesting is the third protagonist, Maximus. Maximus is a squire in training with the Brotherhood of Steel, a faction modeled on the old medieval Orders of Knighthood. Their objective is, essentially, to seize and hoard all modern technology from the wasteland, in order to prevent humanity from using it again to destroy itself. The Brotherhood has always been one of the more fascinatingly grey factions in this world, torn between the often cruel fanaticism of their ideology and a de facto role as protectors of the wasteland denizens. Fittingly, Maximus is one of the more enigmatic characters in the franchise. Often driven by acts of nobility and a sense of wanting to "do good", but more often driven by his ego, ambition and desire for self-preservation.

There is so much about this adaptation that is on point. Amazon have nailed the look and feel of this world, from the visual aesthetics, to its music. The set and prop design is incredible, imagining all kinds of whacky retro-futuristic technology that has never existed, but looks functional.

The writing is also very strong, capturing the satirical tone of the source material, the humour, homages to pop culture and pulp fiction. The story is a little derivative, it has to be said. The whole "vault dweller leaving the vault to find a family member" has been done at least a few times already in Fallout. For the most part though, the story is fine. If the story could be a little more original, though, the character stories are thoroughly excellent. The main protagonists all have fascinating arcs with plenty of tantalising details left to be explored in future seasons. The secondary characters, too, are great, and I was surprised by how engaged I found myself by some of these B-plotlines.

There are some moments where the dialogue can fall flat. The show is always trying to be so subversive and irreverent that sometimes can lead to exchanges that are more cringe than satirical absurdity. A particular scene between Maximus and Lucy talking about the mechanics of sex comes to mind.

Ultimately, any quibbles I have with this series are minor. Fallout stands as a rare example of something that is, at the same time, a great adaptation and also a work of high quality in its own right. The series fits perfectly into the world that already existed, but also stands on its own and expands that world. 

Videogame adaptations have historically had a bad reputation attached, although this seems to be changing in recent years. Both Sonic and Mario have had well-received big screen outings, and then The Last of Us came along and became one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed television hits of 2023. Fallout seems to have followed that trend. It is easily one of the best videogame adaptations yet created, one that looks set to become both a critical and commercial hit. But where Last of Us was a direct adaptation of the story in that game, Fallout is an entirely original tale, one that can be taken in any number of directions. I can't wait to see what comes next.

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