The Fallout TV Show Is Good

1 month ago 48

I am not a Fallout fan. I’ve always admired the games and dabbled with them for a few hours here and there, but it was never a series that inspired excitement in me. I am, however, a fan of the Fallout show’s creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. The two worked together on Westworld and though my fandom faded over time, I will always hold up the first season as some of my favorite television ever. I went into Amazon’s Fallout adaptation with unsure expectations. Video game movies and TV shows have improved in recent years, but I will always be hesitant. And time has frequently proven that one successful project from a creator (or a pair in this case) does not automatically equal success in another. Thankfully, however, the Fallout show is scary, violent, funny, weird, intriguing, reverential, and somehow also optimistic – a feeling I have not received from apocalyptic fiction in some time.

Following a few disparate characters and taking place along a few different timelines (in typical Nolan fashion), Fallout primarily follows Lucy MacLean, played by Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), who exits her comfortable underground vault to enter a horrifying wasteland. Through her eyes, we learn how this world works and how absolutely terrible it can be, and I enjoyed watching her optimism crest and valley throughout the show.

Every other primary character is exciting to follow in different ways. Maximus (Aaron Moten) is a motivated apprentice in the Brotherhood of Steel, and learning how the powerful cult functions through his perspective is educational and often surprisingly funny. Lucy’s intimate knowledge of a nearly safe, functional underground world and Maximus’ education on how to survive in a hellscape lead to surprising overlap and unexpected comedy.

Beyond its overall tone – a world filled with violent delights in a science-fiction setting – Cooper Howard, played by Walton Goggins (Justified), is perhaps the most direct line to Westworld. He is reminiscent of the Man in Black in Nolan and Joy’s sci-fi western, a violent cowboy with intimate knowledge of the world that he puts to frequent, terrifying use. Goggins is the kind of actor who effortlessly stands out in any cast, and even behind Ghoul prosthetics, Fallout is no exception. Goggins has one of my favorite lines in the show, citing the danger of getting distracted by bulls*** when trying to complete a primary mission. It is effective as a standalone joke and a reference to the inspirational video game.

An unexpected highlight for me is Thaddeus, played by Johnny Pemberton (Superstore). Arguably the fourth lead, Pemberton is representative of my favorite thing about the Fallout show: the comedy. Pemberton is one of many comedic actors and outright comedians who appear in the show, but they are not overt punchline machines winking to the audience about the absurdity of the world. Instead, they play straight-ahead characters doing their best to survive who occasionally have lines that catch me off guard and make me laugh out loud. One of my favorite scenes in the show is later in the season when Pemberton’s Thaddeus is chatting about fiddle music with an actor whose appearance I won’t spoil. It’s a small, quiet moment that is hilarious, tense, and dangerous all at once. It’s the kind of moment and tone that lends Fallout a surprising amount of needed levity in a world filled with look-away-from-the-TV violence at nearly every new location.

And then, on top of all that good science fiction comedy and the time-jumping stories coalescing in an exciting finale, is the Fallout of it all. The Fallout wiki mods will make the call after the show has completed, but from my perspective, it feels like it could all be canon. Not a separate universe or a retelling of a known Fallout story, but rather a series of events that could conceivably take place before or after any of the games, which is what I want from a good adaptation. I like Fallout as an extension of the games rather than a retelling or something separate that happens to look familiar. The rewards for Fallout players are frequent (as my Fallout fan wife excitedly pointed out often), but for those like me with a passing interest in the franchise, what exists here is an excellent, original story in that established universe. Plus, some good jokes.

Additional thoughts:

  • Does the Dogmeat die? No. But she does get injured. A newborn puppy is also killed in the beginning of episode 2.
  • The jokes about the dangers of corporate structure hit especially hard in 2024
  • The violence is extreme, but is often so over the top, that you can’t take it seriously
  • The Brotherhood of Steel Power Armor actually looks cool!
  • It is fun to see Michael Emerson (Lost) play a character with opaque motivations again
  • Between Fallout and Oppenheimer, it is weird that brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan have taken different roads to discuss socialism and the dangers of nuclear disaster
  • I hope a potential season two focuses more on Thaddeus, my favorite character
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