The Passage Review

Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, Super Deluxe’s new avant-garde comedy aims high and is deeply satisfying.

Right from the start, The Passage is in absolute chaos. Neither the audience nor the show’s beleaguered protagonist have any idea what’s going on. Plenty of shows begin in such an unraveled fashion, but The Passage feels like you’re lost in creator/writer/star’s Philip Burgers’ dream. For instance, none of the pilot episode is in English. Many different languages assault the show’s main character and the whole affair blissfully plays out with no subtitles. If the show’s protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on then why should the audience? The Passage is not at all interested in whether you understand what’s being said. In fact, it hopes that you don’t. The experience is all the more lucid and unexpected as a result. 

On that note, Philip’s character is lost and unsure of where he is in a literal sense, but he also feels empty and finds himself on the seemingly impossible search for peace and meaning in life. The Passage effectively highlights how barriers like language are ultimately irrelevant. The experience of being lost and looking for meaning is universal and something that’s easy to decipher. Phil might not say anything through the episode, but at every moment you know exactly what he feels. In that sense The Passage is a thrilling piece of experimental storytelling that resembles films like The Gods Must Be Crazy or Being There more than it does some fish-out-of-water sitcom. 

As Burgers’ protagonist works his way through this gauntlet, the audience gets to see him experience emotions like love, fear, and community, all while he appears to be outside of his typical comfort zone. It’s surprising to see how satisfying it is to simply watch these universal emotions resonate. Additionally, music and song really gain a special significance since the English language does take a backseat here. At times it feels like The Passage morphs into a bizarre interpretative music video. It’s a delirious quality that works.

The larger scope of The Passage will supposedly take Phillip Burgers’ protagonist to different areas of the world every week. The pilot ricochets Phil from a Spanish church service to a Japanese spa to a Haitian family’s home and inexplicably makes various international pit stops in between. It’s easy to picture how his misunderstandings will translate to different areas and communities. The Passage’s pilot is highly successful in the fact that it gives a crystal clear vision of what future episodes could look like. That being said, if nothing further were to happen with this series, this would still stand as a captivating short film (there’s a reason that this premiered at Sundance) that communicates a lot in a very unconventional way.

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The Passage comes courtesy of Super Deluxe, who have come back in a big way as of late. Ten years ago the company started as a brand for promising alternative comedians that gave voices like Tim and Eric and Brad Neely a venue to produce short-form content. Now Super Deluxe has transitioned into the television game and has a number of promising series in development, like the supernatural-based Chambers and comedies from Kumail Nanjiani and Chelsea Peretti.

The Passage is arguably Super Deluxe’s most mature project to date, but it also marks maturity in many ways for the other people involved, like Abso Lutely Productions and co-writer and director, Kitao Sakurai. However, this pilot is still full of the same familiar cues of horror and surprise that fill their previous work, like The Eric Andre Show. Much of the horror genre connects because it’s terrifying to picture yourself in that situation, but The Passage has the power to make you feel like you’re stuck in a foreign horror film. It’s such an interesting endeavor. 

Philip Burgers is also a performer that loves to deconstruct the form and evoke strong reactions in the process. He’s been successful with that on many fronts and Burgers’ episode of Netflix’s The Characters is the perfect primer for his atypical style. That installment (“Dr. Brown”) is a powerhouse of the surreal, but The Passage feels like an even more fully realized version of those ideas. Everyone pushes themselves to the limit here and takes big swings. There’s so much passion and drive in this pilot that it’s exciting to imagine the amount of energy that would power a full season.

The Passage is a project that without a doubt will be too weird and slow for some people. Plenty will claim that not enough happens, but this is a show that couldn’t give any less of a shit about any of that. This is one of those weird programs that you need to go out on a limb for and you’ll either love it or absolutely loathe it and have no interest in what it tries to do. Right from the pilot’s opening seconds, which take place hundreds of miles up in the air, I was captivated over the journey of this protagonist. At the same time, I absolutely understand how someone could hate this and how its low stakes storytelling might need to eventually mix up its routine. However, programs like this don’t come around very often and you absolutely owe it to yourselves to give The Passage a shot.

The Passage might not have a home yet, but any network would be wise to take a chance on this unusual series. Burgers’ protagonist is a man with no nation, but The Passage absolutely deserves a place to hang up its hat. The search for peace has never been so disorienting.  


4.5 out of 5