Let’s try a pitch: A streaming half-hour animated series from Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy that tackles the monotony of adult life, the burden of relationships, the trauma we inherit from our families, mental illness, and depression. So basically, Bojack Horseman, you might say. Not quite. A talking horse doesn’t even begin to touch the mind-bending aspects of Amazon’s new series, Undone.
Undone centers on Alma, played by Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel), a 28-year old going through the motions with her boyfriend Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay). Alma starts becoming restless about her boring, seemingly predetermined future when her sister Becca (Angelique Cabral) gets engaged. After a blowout fight with Becca, which once again circles back to the untimely death of their father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk), Alma gets into a serious car accident. When she awakes, Alma finds herself not only with the ability to communicate with Jacob, but with the power to move through space and time in nonlinear fashion. If that sounds hard to understand, then you’re in the same boat as Alma, who struggles with being able to experience her life and memories repeatedly, out of order, or from a new perspective.
Hisko Hulsing (Montage of Heck) serves as the production designer on Undone, taking what looks to be filmed pieces and subtly painting over them so they appear as animation. It’s the same rotoscoping style as A Scanner Darkly and Undone even uses Minnow Mountain, the animation team behind that film. Undone is the first instance of rotoscoping being used for a television product, helping Amazon’s first adult animation series stand out. When Alma snaps back to the present after tripping through her past and other planes of reality, Hulsing’s gorgeous backgrounds literally shatter. In the five episodes screened for review, it’s gorgeous and novel, enough of a reason to give the series a shot.
However, the trippy visuals are just the tip of the iceberg. Salazar is a dynamic live-wire, funny and infuriating, the most three-dimensional character since Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. After being the clear highlight in Alita: Battle Angel, perhaps someone will finally give Salazar a meaty role that doesn’t require her face to be obscured by animation or CGI. Alma is prickly, but compelling, barely holding things together as is, then thrust into inexplicably bizarre circumstances. Odenkirk is also dependably great as Jacob. Warm then stern at the drop of a hat, Jacob is trying to help Alma hone her abilities so she can dive back into the past and solve his murder, yet there’s a duplicitous air to Jacob that suggests he’s hiding something big.
Just like Bojack, Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy’s writing packs a wallop. Purdy mines personal experiences with mental illness and her interest in mysticism to give Alma’s journey emotional weight and intrigue. Alma fears settling down with Sam because she knows her paternal grandmother suffered from schizophrenia, which was exasperated after she had children. Alma is afraid that she’ll suffer the same fate, however, Jacob suggests that his mother’s condition and its qualities were no different than the characteristics that make shamans and mystics valued members of their indigenous communities. Alma has to determine whether she’s tapping into special, mystic abilities or whether she’s suffering from a mental breakdown.
Undone is one of the most ambitious series debuting this fall, and at 22-minutes an episode, it’s a breezy, yet deeply engaging trip. Packed with crackling performances and psychedelic imagery, Undone pulls you in and pushes you to places that feel intimate, yet entirely unique and challenging. Besides exploring mental health, time-space, and mysticism, Undone also takes time to discuss gender issues, cultural similarities and differences, and the importance of family. It’s an incredibly deep and impressive series, and if marketed correctly by the streaming service, should be a massive hit for Amazon.
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Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.