Fallout: Season 1

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Drama
Service: Prime Video
Season Year: 2024
Watch: Prime Video

We’re in the golden age of video game television series adaptations. We have The Last of Us. And… well… Okay, there are twos of video game adaptation shows that don’t totally suck. Oh, Halo! That’s a thing. I didn’t see it, and don’t care to. I played the original Xbox game and don’t really see how that would make a compelling television show. But I’m mostly dumb. That said, I’ve never played a Fallout game, yet I was attracted to the retro post-apocalyptic nature of the series. I did try Fallout 76 after watching this series. Meh, not a fan. It’s… convoluted and the action is janky. The point is, it’s hard to adapt video games. But when you’re served with such a strong aesthetic and a world this specific, it certainly helps.

Steampunk? No, not quite. More retro-futuristic, a la Brazil. Mixed with neo-western. Or somesuch. It’s a particular look in the show’s pre-apocalypse times. A mid-century thing where women always wear dresses, people throw Tupperware garden parties and every house is an LA-style glass and beam showcase. Kids love cowboys and advertising actually works on people. It’s a utopia of sorts — save the ever-present threat of nuclear war. I’m going to assume this is supposed to be some parallel universe and not an alternative history of our world given the weird tech that exists in this 1950s-feeling America that is actually 2077. Part of the tech that exists are these vaults that a company, Vault-Tec, builds to house those lucky enough to be able to afford a spot to ride out the potential nuclear war. Kind of an insurance policy should China or the US decide that a preemptive strike is a good idea. And, as with every show set in the future, Vault-Tec is, of course, completely evil.

Flash forward 200 years to 2296 and the world is a swirling wasteland filled with nuclear fallout, zombie-like ghouls and Mad Max-style shanty towns and roving gangs of weirdos. But underground live these closed societies in the many vaults dotting the US. It’s super-similar in a lot of ways to Silo. But waaaay less self-serious. And waaaay more fun. I mean the vaults aren’t fun, the show is, but I’m getting to that. We learn over the course of the show that there’s more to these vaults than meet the eye — remember, Vault-Tec is an evil corporation — as we focus on one vault and its inhabitants in particular: Vault 33. I won’t go into all the ins and outs of the world intrigue and vault mysteries and all that, but the main narrative revolves around a kidnapping and retrieval.

The leader of vault 33, Hank MacLean (Kyle MacLachlan), is kidnapped after some surface dwellers break into their vault, kill a bunch of folks and make off with him. His daughter, Lucy (Ella Purnell), decides to leave the safety of the vault to go find him. Imagine Dorothy dropped in Oz. Or any fish out-of-water innocent in a land of scary freaks. Turns out growing up in an underground utopia leaves one a little sheltered. As she travels the land, she meets plenty of characters, including The Ghoul (Walton Goggins) and a soldier in his crazy robot armor, Maximus (Aaron Moten). Everyone seems to be searching for this item that is embedded in a human head, including said Ghoul and Maximus. And she gets all embroiled in the search for both the item and her father. There’s more to it, but this is the basic gist of things.

The show is violent. It’s gross. But it’s also funny. Not quite as gross or as funny as The Boys, but it definitely has some beats that feel similar. Ella Purnell is terrific as the altruistic and principled Lucy. There is some commentary in there about privilege — which she definitely has growing up in the fantasy land of the vault — but she also has a single-minded dedication to the father she thinks is this great guy. Moten’s character is in some way even more interesting. He’s truly fucked up, and Moten makes some super-funky choices in the way he plays him. He’s this man orphaned at a young age, saved by this odd cultish para-military organization, brought up under their watch and clearly never really taught how to be a human. Which is compounded by the fact he walks around in a giant weapon-equipped mechanized suit. That he kinda stole off a dead Michael Rapaport. It’s unclear if he’s slow or autistic or just kind of damaged by a life of odd militant religious fervor, but his character and his deadpan oscillating sense of duty and reality is pretty fascinating. Goggins seems perfectly cast as The Ghoul. Another compromised, dubious human/zombie hybrid who makes his living as a soulless bounty hunter with a wicked streak. He’s like an evil masked Stanley Ipkiss, but with less dancing and singing.

The show can feel a little all-over-the-place at times as we cut around to the different characters’ stories in the obvious pursuit of them all coming together eventually. But each action vignette and the general mystery — inclusive of flashbacks — creates a web of fun enough to keep the viewer intrigued. There is some stretching going on at times, and some scenes feel overly long, but, hey, they gotta make eight episodes of TV with each episode running over an hour. It’s a lot. After all the chasing and shooting and cool-looking landscapes we’re treated to what is definitely an ending looking toward a season two. I’m not exactly certain where we go from here, as there’s no evident storyline to chase, but I’m sure they have something in mind. The nice thing is the creators have crafted a thing that doesn’t feel like a paint-by-numbers recreation of a video game. If you didn’t know it was adapted from one, you might just think it’s the quirky sci-fi aciton-adventure that it appears to be. I’m sure there are Easter eggs for game players, but for me it was just a good time wandering the wasteland with some different type of characters than we usually see in these types of genre shows.