TV Review: USA Helps ‘The Purge’ Miniseries Sort of Execute Its Premise

There are very few positives to put forward about “The Purge” franchise. While the premise felt unique, the films have often struggled to be even mediocre. This summer’s “The First Purge” seemed to be better than most of the entries, which does not say much. It probably says a lot that the best execution of the premise is still “Rick and Morty’s” episode “Look Who’s Purging Now” from season 2. Despite the struggle, the franchise is now 4 features deep, and as of today, a mini-series on USA as well. The series brings to life a single Purge night in a “24” style format. Unfortunately, while the product on screen may be the best execution of the concept to date, it is still lacking.

The limited series creates several storylines for us to follow over the course of the night. We are introduced to Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), an ex-Marine trying to find his sister on Purge Night. The Purge has been running for 10 years, and their parents were killed in the first Purge. His sister, Penelope (Jessica Garza) has joined a cult that sacrifices themselves to those who do Purge. She joins the group heading out for the night to die. Meanwhile, Jane (Amanda Warren) leaves her mother’s bedside in the hospital to go to work on Purge night. She has hired a contract killer to take care of her boss while she is in a “no-purge” safe zone.

On the other side of town, a Purge Party with the representatives of “The New Founding Fathers” is going down. Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Rick (Colin Woodell) attend despite their anti-Purge sentiments. As Jenna walks through the house, she realizes a past relationship with Lila (Lili Simmons),  the daughter of the party hosts, put them in an interesting situation.

The various characters are set up surprisingly well by Thomas Kelly, who executive produces and showruns. You have to give credit to the team behind the show for the racially and economically diverse portrait of America. The films have gotten more diverse with each subsequent entry, so this is not overly surprising. What is surprising is that Kelly actually does a good job of building out the ensemble. The time gimmick, lifted nicely off of “24” does a lot to help with that in early episodes. As we countdown to the Purge, we get a great setup of these characters that the films don’t allow. In subsequent episodes, our protagonists begin to cross paths without realizing it, creating a web that continues to build suspense.

On the flip side, the intro episode is a tad long. We probably spent about 10 minutes per story, which in its own right is not a bad thing. However, without the purging, it’s mostly jealous melodrama. Some interesting fight scenes ensue, but nothing to write home about. The actors are fine but don’t bring anything above standard performances. The exception appears to be Warren, who may have the least interesting setup, but seems like the best performer in the ensemble. In later episodes, the runtime is cut to close to 40 minutes, shaving off most of the fat. Burdensome flashbacks begin to seep into the show, which can kill momentum at times.

The production quality is similar to that of the films, with potentially better cinematography. USA continues to grow genre talent, and “The Purge” fits that bill. The violence that does occur is more action-oriented, and it’s not as negatively frenetic as the film. Instead, the relative calm in the direction works well. While the stillness of the pilot occurs pre-Purge, we get some good fights later in the show. The use of night vision and infrared goggles seems great on paper. One of the “purged” lights up the screen when set ablaze. Once the festivities begin in earnest, we get a more frenetic camera, yet it is still less nauseating than the one from the films.

Overall, the performances showcase good, but not great characters. It also features fine direction and decently set-up scripts. For most shows, this could be a negative. For “The Purge,” this might be the best execution of the concept to date. While we’ve still got a ways to go, the expansion of the world and multiple viewpoints should do the series well. If “The Purge” becomes obsessed with violent moments, it will flounder. So far, those moments rarely occur. In the meantime, USA should be happy there’s a chance this could be decently enjoyable.

What did you think of the first episode of “The Purge?” Does it stand a chance to actually be good? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! 

“The Purge” airs Tuesdays on USA Network. 

GRADE: (★★)