The Purge Episode 1 Review: What is America?

The Purge TV series expands the universe of the movies in all the right ways.

This The Purge review contains spoilers.

The Purge Episode 1

One of the smartest things any marketing department can do is get a movie property associated with a holiday. Half the reason I saw Independence Day on release weekend is because it was THE July 4th film of that year. The Saw movies are memorable for two things, Billy the puppet and the slogan, “If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.”

In many ways, July 4 is the highlight of summer. It’s hot, but not too hot. It’s a day off of work devoted to eating too much and blowing things up. Most of the summer is still ahead, but summer hasn’t overstayed its welcome. The Fourth of July was a great time to release a movie like The First Purge, which is tied to a twisted version of jingoism and classicism; the Purge is the post-Obama American nightmare, a fun house mirror version of current events that looks increasingly less “fun house” with every passing day.  

With Fourth of July over, Labor Day is a great time to unleash The Purge, the ten-episode limited season from creator James DeMonaco and the USA Network. The show has the benefit of several points of synergy. It’s about a dystopian USA, and it’s on the USA Network. The Purge is a summer property, and The Purge series bows at the tail-end of summer. The three-day weekend allowed NBC Universal to undertake a huge marketing blitz for the series, reaching a lot of passive eyeballs, and the season will bridge the gap between summer and Halloween (fittingly, The Purge will have an episode air on 9/11, which, while not a holiday, is certainly dedicated to patriotism).

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One of the genius things about the original Purge movie is that it focused solely on an individual family. The exposition came, then as now, via news reports and snippets of casual daily life. Everyone’s talking about The Purge like it’s Murder Christmas; you have to get your shopping done prior to, make your plans, and “decorate” your home with plywood, metal gates, and security systems. The world expanded, slowly, into a Purge-torn city. The Purge series began in suburbia, went to the streets, and then ended up in the halls of power, where the New Founding Fathers of America used it as a tool to eliminate anyone who would seek to shake up the new status quo (one they brought about by using poverty against the poor and encouraging class warfare).

The films tended to be focused on specific people and specific events; the television show is going to consist of multiple story lines are weaved together, further fleshing out the Purge universe and expanding on the films. In a nod to the NFFA’s fascist version of capitalism. Jane (Amanda Warren) leads a corporate lock-in on Purge night to complete an important business deal. Rick and Jenna Betancourt (Colin Woodell and Hannah Emily Anderson) are attending their first NFFA Purge party in an effort to raise funds for a philanthropic venture, despite reservations about being involved with both the NFFA-aligned Albert and Ellie Stanton (Reed Diamond and Andrea Frankle) and the Purge itself. Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria) is a former Marine who only wants to find his sister Penny (Jessica Garza) and rescue her from the clutches of a Purge-obsessed death cult.

If the viewer is a fan of the Purge universe, then there’s a lot to enjoy in the television addition to the Purge universe. The initial episode, from creator James DeMonaco, will be familiar to anyone who is on board with the Purge Cinematic Universe. It’s mostly soap opera stuff, but it’s entertaining enough, and the characters all have clear motivations for the things that they’re doing. Subtlety has no place during Murder Christmas: Jane wants to get ahead in the company, because she’s supporting a sick mother; Rick and Jenna have business to attend to, and their small company depends on funding; Miguel has his sister to save from herself. Nothing new on any front, except for perhaps the death-cult of Purge victims led by the mysterious Good Leader (Fiona Dourif), who adds an interesting spin on how The Purge has infiltrated and mutated the religious world, counterbalancing the murder clergy as seen in The Purge: Election Year.

The performances are also fittingly broad. Gabriel Chavarria is determined and violent, beating information out of street thugs and driving through the opening stages of the Purge hell-scape. Amanda Warren is nervous and fragile, lashing out at her underlings and glancing furtively at her cell phone as she arranges some sort of illicit dealing to take place during The Purge. Colin Woodell and Emily Anne Henderson are nervous, as much because they’re trying to pass for a higher social class out of Purge-related nervousness.

It’s early in the series run, but The Purge doesn’t seem to be toned down for TV viewers. There’s plenty of violence, though the bulk of the messy stuff is off-screen—the Purge series has never been especially gory—and the emphasis is on creepy visuals, like a gang of Purgers in pink bunny outfits or a lone building maintenance man sharpening a machete in sterile cinder-block basement. Anthony Hemingway knows the visual language of the Purge, and uses it well. The expository television broadcasts bring dark humor and biting satire. The chyrons counting down to the commencement of the annual Purge add an extra layer of urgency to the proceedings, giving Miguel’s chase more drive and Jane’s worry more acidity.

If the first episode is any benchmark, then the series will carry on in the tradition of the movies; lean storytelling, quick pace, interesting costume design and colors, memorable-looking characters, and the occasional thought-provoking moment interspersed between bursts of violence. It feels like The Purge, without any adulteration to fit basic cable. If you’re in on The Purge, as I am, then The Purge TV show is a satisfying expansion of that universe.

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