Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ Is an Ultra-Violent and Twistedly Fun Video Game Adaptation: TV Review

The big and small screens are stuffed full of post-apocalyptic adventures, yet despite that cluttered landscape, few shows and films stick out to offer something unique for viewers. However, in “Fallout” for Prime Video, a thrilling adaptation of the beloved video game series, creators Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner present an off-kilter and fascinating look at humanity in the 23rd century.

“Fallout” begins at the end. The eight-episode series opens in picturesque America sometime in the future. It has reverted to the texture of a glossier post-racial 1955. Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins), an actor known for starring in Westerns, is the entertainment at a children’s party for an affluent family. As he packs his belongings, his young daughter Janey (Teagan Meredith) points outward toward the Los Angeles skyline just as a nuclear bomb explodes on the horizon. The bombing marks the end of the world we are accustomed to, but this is where the journey begins.

Two hundred nineteen years later, the viewer finds themselves underground. Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) is an overly cheery young woman who has spent her entire life in the luxurious Vault 33, adhering to the “golden rule” of her “Pleasantville”-like society. Having no suitable men in her vault, she makes a pitch to be married to a member of Vault 32. It takes little convincing for Lucy’s father, Hank MacLean (Kyle MacLachlan), the vault’s overseer, along with his group of advisers, to give the marriage a green light. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go according to plan. Instead, armed with a dumbfounding naïveté and the desire to reorient her home to its proper settings, Lucy heads above ground for the first time, stumbling through an ultra-violent and lawless wasteland she could have never fathomed. From beheadings to the menacing ghouls — mutated humans given prolonged lives by lengthy exposure to radiation — this is not the world Lucy was expecting.

Elsewhere on the surface level, Maximus (Aaron Moten) is finding his way as a lowly soldier in the Brotherhood of the Steel – an Army-type organization committed to bettering the wasteland by collecting and preserving technology. After a disastrous first mission, Maximus crosses paths with Lucy, who is miffed by the ill-mannered and volatile people (and creatures) she has encountered. Forming a reluctant trust between them, the unlikely duo set off on a two-week-long adventure seeking out a woman named Moldaver (Sarita Choudhury) — to say why would be a spoiler. The pair’s quest awakens their understanding of the past and how it intertwines with their chaotic present.

Video game adaptations have produced a mixed bag. While films, including the recent “Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Dungeons and Dragons,” saw box office success, others like “Rampage” have not fared so well. On television, there are the successes of HBO’s “The Last of Us” and Netflix’s “The Witcher,” and then there is the less buzzy “Halo” on Paramount+. Here, Wagner and Robertson-Dworet wisely chose to avoid a straight adaptation. Instead, they constructed an original story within the game universe. Moreover, unexpected stylistic choices, including archaic technology, a soundtrack full of hits from Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby and odd mid-20th century dialogue, contrast against disturbingly vicious deaths, making “Fallout” a sensory-fueled feast.

The scope of the series is massive. When the narrative stalls in the sixth episode, recounting Cooper’s life in the months and weeks before the bomb drop, the visuals led by production designer Howard Cummings and art and set direction led by Ann Bartek and Regina Graves keep the audience engaged. Robertson-Dworet and Wagner give their audience intricate looks into various aspects of this universe. From different vaults run by various overseers to the endless deserted sands of California and into the lawless city of Filly, the artisans worked tirelessly to ensure no detail was left unattended.

The first half of “Fallout” is undoubtedly the strongest, as Lucy tries to grapple with the lies she’s been told about the world while barely keeping herself alive. Still, even as the storylines linger too long in less exciting places, viewers are eager to see how the varied mysteries and secrets of the surface and the dwellers will reveal themselves. Bizarre but intensely fun, “Fallout” is like nothing you’ve ever seen; for that reason alone, you won’t be able to turn away.

The eight episodes of “Fallout” premiere on April 11 on Prime Video.