The Purge TV Series is Good, Actually

by thethreepennyguignol

Look, I spend a lot of time needlessly defending bad television on this blog. I get that. I do. I’m a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the terrible TV show – as the filmmaner Werner Herzog says, “the poet must not avert his eyes”. I’m sure he was talking about Riverdale when he said that.

Normally, I’m dunking on shows that are widely accepted as awful, just for the fun of revelling in some glorious trash. But this time, I’ve got something different for. And that’s a passionate defence of The Purge TV series.

Based on the surprise-hit horror film series of the same name, The Purge got a couple of seasons between 2017 and 2019 before it was canned by the network after bad reviews and disappointing viewing figures. So bad were the reviews, in fact, and so uninterested the media at large seemed in selling me this series, I just assumed that it was one of those best-forgotten horror spin-offs that I’d do better to avoid.

But hey, lockdown makes fools of us all, and I found myself tuning in to the first season of the show with the intention of just switching off my brain with the horror equivalent of easy listening. But let me tell you something, dear friends and readers: the first season of The Purge TV series is maybe, secretly, one of my favourite horror shows of the last few years. And let me tell you fer why.

Firstly and foremostly, I was ready for this show to be the most absurdly, horribly, exceptionally violent thing that I’d ever seen. If you’re not aware of the premise of the series, it revolves around a single night of the year when the American Government has made all crime legal. Set over the course of this one night, I was sort of bracing myself for the inevitably gleeful delve into every horrible thing that the writers could think of – specifically, what seemed like a free reign to just go balls-to-the-wall on “serious” sexual violence as an excuse to Show Some Titties.

But I think one of the things that I appreciated most about The Purge, despite its obvious and intense silliness, is that it takes violence, and sexual violence, pretty seriously within this world. There are examples of sexual violence in the show, but they’re brief, usually feature no nudity, and are focused on the victim’s response and trauma instead of the perpetrator’s enjoyment. The violence is shown to be devastating, both for the people suffering it and often the people committing it. Right from the start, the show is actually trying, and I appreciate that.

And to be honest with you: I think The Purge TV series has some pretty solid politics, if you’re a bleeding-heart lefty like me. One of the biggest things that the show consistently repeats is that the dynamics at play during the purge are reflective of those that exist the rest of the year, too – rich people can get away with doing anything with no payback. People who believe that they deserve power because of their gender and race (of which one particularly iconic one is the biggest bad of the season) are always going to use the privilege they have to get back at the people they feel have stripped that power from them.

The most interesting comment it has, though, and one that I think is totally accurate, is that people committing crimes during the  purge are not those who do it for the rest of the year –  most of them aren’t doing it for fun, as a break from reality, they’re doing it to live. Throw in a little commentary about the individualism of the American identity and the way it encourages violence against other people, and honestly, the last season of American Horror Story will get nominated for Emmys for a lot less, you know?

Honestly, the lead cast aren’t exactly anything to write home about – not bad, but not brilliant – but the show is peppered with delightfully batshit supporting performances that really elevate it episode-to-episode. Fiona Dourif – who, yes, has her dad’s exact face – as a compelling cult leader, Dominic Fumasa as peacekeeper Pete the Cop (yes, that’s his in-show title), Dylan Thomas as the psychotic Matty Healy of your nightmares…they’re not a whole lot of screentime, but they add up to a whole lot of fun, and it’s constantly fun to try and keep up with whoever they’re throwing at us next.

I just think that The Purge – its first season, at least – is actually a really solid little piece of horror television. With some cool ideas communicated with a surprising deftness, it still has its scrappy moments, but I’m willing to forgive them when they’re clearly giving it the old college try. It doesn’t deserve the roasting that it got, critically and culturally – sure, we all love to dunk on a bad spin-off, and it’s easy pickings when the movie series it comes from has always been solid. But, for no other reason than because I say so: watch The Purge. Because it’s good, actually.

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(header image via CinemaBlend)